On a recent balmy night in Brooklyn, my husband and I wandered down to the Columbia Street Waterfront for a rare date while our daughter was at Grandma’s house. Without a reservation, the good people at Popina scrounged up a table in their festively lit backyard, where we opened the menus on our phone. I’m pregnant again, so with a heavy heart I looked past the list of regional Italian wines and ordered a Spindrift. It arrived at our table cracked open, with a bright-green straw sticking out. Thick and rigid, the straw was a little starchy to the tongue but definitely not plastic. After commenting to my husband, a food-industry professional, that I had no clue what it was made of, he grabbed it, put it between his teeth, and said, “Honey, I think it’s pasta!” Our waitress later confirmed that not only was the straw made of pasta but gluten-free pasta, in case we were concerned. (Having trekked to Popina for its housemade casarecce, we weren’t, but we appreciated the tip nonetheless.)
Entirely new to me, but not new, the concept of biodegradable pasta-as-straw has noodled around as a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic options for a few years. The most literal example are those people who have taken to sipping from store-bought bucatini, a pasta (if you’re not familiar) that is thicker and more rodlike in shape than spaghetti, with a hole through its center. Indeed, even Grub Street, in its deep dive into the Great Bucatini Shortage of 2020, suggested a link between the pasta’s scarcity and its embrace as a more sustainable-straw option. Word on the street is that some local cool-kid spots, like Honey’s Brooklyn, keep boxes of actual bucatini behind the bar to serve with cocktails.
But now there are also companies like Stroodles and the Amazing Pasta Straw that specialize in optimized-for-sipping, wheat-based straws sold in bulk to restaurants in Europe and the United States. The pasta straw that delighted me at Popina was from a third brand, Pasta Life, which was founded by a pair of tristate-area entrepreneurs. Instead of wheat, its straws are made from a blend of rice and tapioca flour and dyed fun colors with natural ingredients, including turmeric, beetroot, and butterfly-pea flowers. While the founders tweaked their dough recipe to make the straws gluten free, Pasta Life’s straws are otherwise made, dried, and processed the same way traditional noodles are, with no coatings or preservative treatments. Perhaps not surprisingly, Popina is among a growing number of Italian joints where you can find them in New York City.
Sauce Restaurant on the Lower East Side is another spot where Pasta Life straws are served with beverages “from sodas to cocktails,” according to its head of operations, Matthew Silva. He told me that whenever Sauce servers “mention the straws are made from pasta, guests are usually in disbelief,” adding, “more times than not, photos are taken, prompting conversations about all of the straw alternatives that guests have seen previously.” At Bar Primi in the East Village, managing partner Justin Sievers says he “jumped on” Pasta Life’s straws because they “are more consistent in size and don’t break as easily” as the paper and grass-and-bamboo options the restaurant has used. Bar Primi serves them with all drinks that require a straw — including its frosé slushies, which Sievers says require something to sip from that’s thick enough to hold up to the drink’s blended ice.
While many pasta straw–makers focus on selling in bulk to restaurants, you don’t need to book a reservation (or buy a pack of 1,000) to try the ones from Pasta Life. The company also sells them in smaller quantities for folks who want to try its straws at home. In addition to that first one I sipped my Spindrift sparkling water from, I’ve since used Pasta Life straws in various drinks, from iced coffee, to hibiscus tea, to a blueberry smoothie, to ice water, all of which tasted as they should (not of rice and tapioca flour). Being pregnant, I gave some to a friend, my Strategist editor, to try in cocktails, and he reported his tequila-and-tonic tasted so till the very last sip. Structural integrity, though, is another story — especially at home, where it’s easier to let drinks linger. In terms of rigidity, pasta straws are not a perfect swap for metal or their now-shunned plastic counterparts. After 30 to 45 minutes in a cold beverage, they begin to warp into a kind of Memphis–esque bendy straw that feels more like silicone and occasionally will split. For something you can’t reuse, they’re also a bit pricier. (As for eating them, it’s complicated: Sauce’s Silva and Pasta Life’s founders say the brand’s straws are edible, but Sievers advises against it because “they can be a little sharp if you bite into them.”) Still, anyone will attest that pasta straws are far superior to paper. And summer, after all, is the season for fleeting joys, whether that’s an ice-cream cone that inevitably drips down your arm or a pasta straw that curves into an arc as you savor your frosé.
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