The drinking straw is a device used for transferring a liquid - usually a drink from one location to another (such as from a cup, to your mouth). The earliest drinking straws were hollow stems of grass, literally made of straw. A thin tube of plastic (such as polypropylene and polystyrene) or other material, straight or with an accordion-like living hinge, it is employed by being held with one end in the mouth and another end in the drink. Muscular action reduces air pressure in the mouth, whereupon atmospheric pressure forces the drink up the straw. The first straws were made by the Sumerians, and used for drinking beer (as to avoid the solid byproducts of fermentation). Argentines and their neighbors use a similar metallic device called bombilla that acts as both a straw and sieve for drinking mate tea. The modern drinking straw was patented in 1888 by Marvin C. Stone.
Early paper straws had a narrow bore similar to that of the grass stems then in common use. It was common to use two of them, to reduce the effort needed to take each sip. Modern plastic straws are made with a larger bore, so only one is needed for comfortable drinking.
One particular advantage of using a straw when drinking is the reduction of tooth decay. Many soft drinks have acidic properties, and using a straw reduces the liquid contact with the teeth, reducing tooth decay and the risk of cavities.
Types of drinking straws
- A basic drinking straw is straight for the full length.
- A bendable straw or "bendy straw" has a concertina-type hinge near the top for convenience.
- A "crazy" straw is hard plastic and has a number of twists and turns at the top. When liquid is sucked through the straw, it quickly flows through the winding path, creating an entertaining spectacle.
- A spoon straw features a cut-away shape at one end that functions as a miniature spoon. It is intended for slush drinks.
- Candy straws, such as licorice straws (or lico-straws), are made from some type of chewy candy.
- A miniature straw often comes attached to a drink box.
- A wide straw is used for sipping bubble tea.
- "Sanitary" straws are individually wrapped to avoid contamination. Straws were originally marketed as a means for people to reduce the risk of contracting an illness from improperly washed containers, glasses, or cups.
- The Sipahh. A drinking straw that contains flavoured tapioca beads that dissolve as milk passes over them to add colour and flavour.
- A recent addition to the straw family is the cereal straw, such as the ones made by Kelloggs.
- Polypropylene is becoming favored over polystyrene for manufacturing plastic drinking straws as polystyrene is brittle and tends to crack easily. It is also denser than water, causing straws to sink when placed into beverages. Polypropylene straws, by contrast, are much more durable and do not sink.
- Special "color-changer" straws given with meals at Friendly's change color as cold liquid passes through them.
- Nicholson Baker's 1988 novel The Mezzanine includes a detailed discussion of various types of drinking straw experienced by the narrator and their relative merits.
In Popular Culture
(known colloquially as "snorting," "sniffing," or "blowing"), the most common method of ingestion of recreational powdered cocaine
, typically involves using a cut straw or hollow tube.