We all know plastic is bad for the environment and it has far-reaching repercussions on marine life as 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. Of this, 0.025% are plastic straws and while this may seem like a conservative figure its sheer number varies between 437 million and 8.3 billion plastic straws globally.
While many restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon of sustainability, from switching to paper, bamboo, coconut leaves and metal straws, this Thane-based startup, called Nom, has introduced edible straws that can be eaten after consuming the drink.
“The straws are made by using 15 different ingredients such as wheat flour, rice flour, all-natural stevia, cocoa powder, vegetable oil, additives, and binders that are all FSSAI approved. We launched this as a sustainable alternative to plastic straws and wanted to leave no trace behind,” says the co-founder Shashank Gupta, a graduate of chemical engineering from IIT Guwahati.
When inspiration strikes
In 2018, when Shashank and his co-founder Simran Rajput launched the company, they aimed to introduce sustainable cutlery. But, after doing some market research they understood that not all consumers were looking for sustainable alternatives. Some of them opted for such solutions only if they had some added benefits like eating the cutlery.
“With that notion in mind, we launched edible cups in 2018. But, their uses were limited and most beverages could not be poured into these cups owing to their fragile nature. So, we discontinued their production and decided to make straws. We thought about how people enjoy eating biscuit cones with their ice cream, and wondered — why not make straws that can be eaten after drinking your milkshake?” says Shashank.
A biscuit flavoured straw
Initially, the duo worked out a solution to make these straws from a kind of seaweed but it was all in vain. The raw materials had to be imported and the cost of production was high. In their second attempt, they decided to make the same using simple kitchen ingredients in different proportions.
“It took us one year of research and development to get the straws right because we had to ensure that the biscuit-like product would remain solid inside a warm or cold beverage. For example, any biscuit after being dipped in coffee or tea would break-apart within a few seconds. To ensure this did not happen with the straw we worked out a solution to restrict the moisture molecule movement,” says Shashank, adding that the patent-pending product takes a minimum of 20 minutes for the straw to get soggy in a hot beverage and minimum 30 minutes in cold beverages.
The straws are made in three sizes (6 mm, 8 mm, and 12 mm) and six different flavours such as vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, lemon, mint, and coffee. They are currently being used by 10 restaurants across India, and are being distributed in countries like Russia, France, and Thailand.
Flag’s, a restaurant in Malad, Mumbai, purchased the straws in August 2020 and the manager, Ashish Powle, says that the customers enjoy the experience of drinking from a straw that can be eaten.
“We serve virgin mojito drinks with the mint-flavoured ones, and customers love the experience. Till date, we have used 300 straws and have not received any negative feedback. Some customers request for an additional straw because they enjoy eating it like a snack. Apart from that, since the straw is flavoured, it also enhances the taste of the beverage and does not overpower it,” says Ashish.