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By CHARLIE WELLS
For years, straws with even the craziest curves, loops, and bends were mostly made of the same thing: soft plastic.
Now, some companies want thirsty consumers to sip out of everything from sliced pork to beef, stainless steel to repurposed cookie.
Bloody Mary with Benny’s Original Meat Straw
“You can’t go wrong with bacon,” says Jason Porat, whose bar garnishes cocktails with straws made of coiled pork slabs that customers can drink from.
People start by sipping, dipping and finally eating the straws, says the general manager at Saboroso Brazilian Steakhouse in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Mr. Porat says the restaurant has been making some 150 straws a day recently, typically pairing them with a C$7.25, or about $6, Caesar cocktail, which is a little like a Bloody Mary but contains clam juice.
The idea came to Mr. Porat and his team about four years ago, when they noticed the 12-foot barbecue his restaurant uses to grill steaks had a metal bar at the bottom. It seemed like the perfect thing to wrap bacon around, he says. After a lot of experimentation, they found the best straw takes two slabs of pork and that a batch takes about an hour to make.
Fans have found added benefits of bacon straws. Near the tail end of a big cocktail event in Halifax, Nova Scotia this year, Allison Sparling says she was feeling pretty hungry. She noticed a bar serving the straws with cocktails, but asked if she could also have a couple to eat.
“As straws they function really well,” she says. “But those straws were the only way I could have survived that evening, having that extra bit of protein.”
Larger companies are retooling their straws, too. In April, Starbucks launched a cookie straw intended to complement its frozen Frappuccino. The straws are made from a rolled wafer biscuit and lined with chocolate ganache. A Starbucks spokeswoman said the straws—sold for 95 cents—have been one of the most popular packaged bakery items in stock.
Susan Liles recently indulged in a cookie straw at her local Santa Barbara, Calif., Starbucks.
“The straw was advertised with a Frappuccino. But I actually think it would have been better with a hot drink because there is chocolate inside of it that might melt,” she says. Still, the registered dietitian says she worries the straws might add too many calories to drinks.
“The straw and the coffee. That was my whole lunch,” she says. “But I really don’t think other people will just stop there.”
Retail experts say adding novelty straws to existing items offers companies a way to refresh products.
“There is a furious battle to differentiate among restaurant providers,” says Michael Silverstein, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group. “Sell one more drink as a result of a better straw and all are better off.”
Samin Nosrat, a chef who focuses on the interaction of flavors in a coming book, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” says meat straws may provide a more functional flavor role. She compares the cookie straw to the experience many had as children, drinking soda out of straws made from the bitten-off ends of a red licorice stick. Such straws simply add more of a sugary sensation, she says, while meat straws provide contrast with vegetable or fruit flavors in a cocktail.
“Our human palates are primed to desire and prefer flavor contrasts,” she says. “That contrast is what is going to make the experience of drinking these beverages through food straws more exciting.”
Marty Duffy, owner of the Cellar Peanut Pub in Oskaloosa, Iowa, says he started sticking straws made of meat into his Bloody Mary cocktails a few years ago and has seen prizewinning results. Last year, one of his drinks, called The Duffy, was named “best dressed Bloody Mary” at a New York City Wine and Food Festival event.
“That straw really took my Bloody Mary to a different dimension,” he says.
Mr. Duffy says he has sold over 20,000 meat straws in drinks over the past two years. He says he uses a brand called Benny’s Original Meat Straws. Online drinking-accessories retailer KegWorks.com sells a pack of five Benny’s Bloody Mary Snack Straws for $7.89, claiming that “a Bloody-soaked snack straw truly is a taste of heaven.”
Ben Hirko of Coralville, Iowa, who invented the straws, says they are made from a mixture of pork and beef. Originally, they were just beef. But adding pork gave the straws a better texture, says the former owner of a lawn-care company who came up with the idea for meat straws when he was tending bar part-time a few winters ago. With a mixture of meats, he says the straws are “kind of like a summer sausage.”
Retailers say consumers are embracing other types of higher-end straws that aren’t made of food.
Straws with elaborate patterns “add a little extra whimsy and extra pop of color” says a spokeswoman for Urban Outfitters’ wedding brand BHLDN. This year, the company launched two new straw lines, made of thick card-stock paper, one with metallic stripes, another with a brushed floral pattern. Confetti.co.uk, a British wedding-accessories retailer, recently started selling paper straws with birch-tree patterns.
Williams-Sonoma sells straws made of medical-grade stainless steel at $12.95 for four, marketing them as eco-friendly because they can be reused. David Rhodes, manager of Aardvark Paper Drinking Straws in Fort Wayne, Ind., says environmental concerns have helped paper straws, which will disintegrate.
Crate & Barrel advertises that “finally, you can clean those stubborn skinny straws” with its $3.95 set of two brushes, intended for use in straws of glass, plastic or metal. “With the continuing popularity of juicing and smoothies, which can have a lot of fiber and pulp, there’s a real need for a tool to clean straws,” says a spokeswoman.
Mr. Hirko, the Benny’s Original Meat Straws inventor, says that despite recent excitement in gourmet straws of all stripes, he sees a limit to the trend. There is, after all, only so much material suitable for a person to suck through.
Fans of his product often suggest other ideas to him, such as straws made from pickles, soy, venison, and buffalo.
“Pickle straws,” he says. “I don’t even know how that would happen.”