A new era of edible tableware, straws, and utensils is giving new meaning to the phrase, “Lick your plate clean.” Now people can not only lick their plates clean but also they can eat their plates, too. But what does the rise in sustainable tableware, utensils, and straws made from wheat bran, wheat straw, and wheat flour mean for the gluten-free community?
The rise in edible, biodegradable, and compostable tableware, utensils, and straws comes as a response to the rise in single-use plastics. These plastics are found in packaging materials, take-out containers, straws, plastic bags, disposable masks, and plastic cups and they’re meant to be thrown away after one use. These single-use plastic products don’t biodegrade and only 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled.
The urgent cry to limit or get rid of single-use plastics has led many cities in the U.S., including Malibu, California, and Seattle, Washington, to ban single-use plastics, leaving business owners on the hunt for more sustainable, biodegradable, and even edible options.
Sustainable Options are Not Gluten Free
There are several companies making waves in this space. Biotrem makes biodegradable tableware and utensils made from wheat bran. These products biodegrade within 30 days and are also edible. The Amazing Pasta Straw makes straws from wheat flour, and Stroodles makes eco-friendly tableware out of durum wheat.
While these innovative products are great for the environment, they are a downright nightmare for the collective gluten-free community, a community inclusive of people grappling with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten (wheat) sensitivity, as well as those suffering from wheat allergies.
Wheat is classified as one of the top eight allergens in the U.S., making it strange that companies would be quick to add this allergen to their restaurants. I don’t see any manufacturer making straws out of peanuts. Touche.
On top of exposing millions of people to unnecessary gluten and wheat, there seems to be a lot of misinformation on how bad they are for the gluten-free community.
One restaurant owner who has been testing pasta straws with tens of thousands of restaurant patrons said one question kept coming up, and that was “Is there gluten in the straws?” The restaurant owner told CNBC that “experts” informed him that gluten is not activated in the pasta until it’s cooked, which, as anyone in the gluten-disordered community knows, isn’t true!
The truth is, gluten doesn’t need to be cooked or heated to cause adverse reactions in people with celiac disease, wheat allergies, or non-celiac wheat sensitivity (gluten intolerance) making it obvious that more education is needed.
To fully drive home this point, a celiac organization in Europe called Coeliac Youth of Europe set out to determine how these wheat-based edible and biodegradable products impacted gluten-free food. They concluded that these biodegradable products have a “significant” effect on gluten-free products.
Specifically, they found:
- 93 parts per million (ppm) of gluten in a gluten-free soup served in a bowl made from wheat bran
- 15 ppm of gluten in a glass of milk served with an edible straw made from wheat bran
- 24 ppm of gluten in a sandwich served on a plate and with utensils made of wheat bran
The hotter the food, the more gluten seeped into that food, although they found there was still a significant risk of gluten exposure in food of any temperature.
Do Wheat Straw Plates Contain Gluten?
Wheat straw plates, like those from Eco Products, are considered gluten free but not wheat free. The plates are made from the straw of the wheat plant, not the protein (gluten).
Keep in mind, however, that people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity (gluten intolerance) and wheat allergy may react to other components of wheat, not just gluten. That means these plates could – and likely will – trigger an adverse reaction in people with either disorder.
On top of plates made from wheat straw, there are actual straws that are made from the stem of the wheat plant called “wheat straws.” The company that makes these wheat straws say they are gluten free, but again, they are not wheat free and those with wheat allergy or non-celiac wheat sensitivity should avoid these products.
Do Pasta Straws Contain Gluten?
The vast majority of pasta straws contain gluten, including The Amazing Pasta Straw and EcoStraws.
That said, one company, Pasta Life, makes pasta straws from brown rice flour. They confirm on their website that their straws are gluten free.
Other companies, like The Sugar Cane Straw, make straws from sugarcane that are gluten free, too.
Paper straws are also gluten free. A rumor in the gluten-free community suggests that paper straws contain wheat paste similar to envelopes, but this myth has been debunked by the National Celiac Association. (And envelopes don’t contain gluten either.)
How To Protect Yourself
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from gluten and/or wheat exposure that result from these sustainable, eco-friendly tableware, utensils, and straws:
Ask Questions: If your food is being served with disposable products that don’t appear to be plastic, ask questions and demand answers. It may seem weird to ask, “What is the straw made of?” but it’s a necessary question these days.
Skip the Straw: Since pasta straws are on the rise, it’s best to skip the straw altogether and sip your drink old-school style. You could also bring your own reusable metal straw.
Bring Your Own Food: If you’re visiting a festival where these products might be rampant, simply bring your own food. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Eat a Dedicated Gluten-Free Restaurants: There won’t be any surprise spoons made from wheat flour in these restaurants!
Write the FDA: Restaurants need to declare allergens, and if they don’t, be sure to report them to the FDA in one of two ways as instructed on the FDA website:
- Contact MedWatch, FDA’s Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program, at 800-332-1088, or file a MedWatch voluntary report at http://www.fda.gov/MedWatch.
- Contact the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.
I think most gluten-free people would agree that we’re all for saving the Earth, but we hope that it doesn’t have to come at the expense of harming our bodies. My hope is these companies will make these sustainable products without wheat, gluten, or any of the top allergens. Until then, the gluten-free community must be extra vigilant.