Edible Straws


Dr. Loveleen Kaur Sarao
Punjab Agricultural University , Ludhiana

Worldwide, more than 1000 million straws are being used daily.  Drinking straws constitute approximately 4% of plastic waste, but are among the items most commonly found on beaches. The combined consumption of the EU and the United States alone amounts to over 200 billion every year. According to a report, straws account for roughly 0.03 percent of the plastic waste in the ocean. This corresponds to a large amount of plastic waste generated and thus, it becomes quite challenging for the sustainability of the earth.

The history of drinking straws dates back to thousands of years ago when humans made use of hollow stems as drinking straws such as papaya stems. Prior to 3000 BC, the first drinking straw was made by Sumerians which was found in their Tomb of Mesopotamia. It was used to drink beer avoiding the solid by products of the fermented beer which settle at the bottom which is brewed in large vats. Gold was used to make these   straws and decorated with the precious blue stone. After that the Argentinans used the straw called Boombilla to drink a traditional caffeine rich South American dish called mate. Silver metal was used to make these with a filter at the bottom to separate mate from leaves, stem etc. Several other variants of drinking straws evolved over the course of time. The paper straws ruled over the world until 1960s. After these, the invention of plastic bloomed and ruled all over the world as they are inexpensive. Thus replacing all the paper straws. During 1980s crazy straws which have a small roller coaster before the end of the straw and jumbo straws with wide opening were introduced. After that the straws were used on routine basis to drink the beverages in order to maintain hygiene.  They are disposed after single use which threats the soil fertility and marine life. So, scientists focused on developing an alternative to replace single use plastic straws with reusable or recyclable or biodegradable or edible straws.

We all love sipping our favourite cool drinks using a straw, but the plastic straws are a big no no!. To combat the issue of plastic straws, paper straws are being used as an alternative. Using paper straws is complicated as they turn soggy after being soaked for long time in the beverage and are even costlier than plastic straws. The wax coating used on paper straws is harmful for our health. The way out for this is the use of metal straws. Cleaning these metal straws is a challenge, therefore people do not prefer these.  Hence, the practice of using single time use disposable plastic and paper straws is what we follow. So, to give an alternative to these issues formulating edible cum biodegradable straw.

In the modern world, the trend of edible straws is on the rise. These edible straws can be eaten after finishing the beverage. It also degrades when its thrown away after consumption of beverage.   The demand of such straws is on a rise as the plastic straws are being looked down upon owing to the disposal issues. However, there are companies working toward a solution, creating edible, biodegradable straws to replace the plastic as several cities and companies are starting to ban the plastics. 

Made from wheat and rice flours, vegetable oil, sugar and flavouring, the straw is completely edible. The manufacturing companies aim to combat the stigma that edible straws are tasteless. They also offer a variety of flavours to provide “drink compatibility”. Flavours include vanilla, butterscotch, and mint, chocolate and lemon-citrus. The base ingredient (flour) for these edible straws is mainly selected from plant/tuber/ fruit having high nutritional content. The selection of stabilizing and thickening agents is done from a natural material which helps in maintaining its structure without collapsing for a longer time. The binding agent aids in holding the particles by binding them together during consumption of beverage. This ensures that there is no alteration in taste. Each ingredient has different functional and chemical property. The selection of ingredients of the edible straw is done in such a way that they have nutraceutical and functional properties. Even sugar free straws are being targeted. 

Researchers have come up with a material that can resist usage of plastic straws. This material is moulded into desired shape to form straws that are edible. These edible straws are flavoured are designed for the sustainability of the future and reduce the use of plastic straws. A new prototype finds a happy medium between rigidity and flexibility, to make a durable straw. Its shelf life is about two years if stored in a dry environment. The new version is used just like any other drinking straw, and it too is edible. The prototype does not colour or sweeten drinks.