Most people have experienced a paper straw “expiring” before they have finished sipping their drinks. A Stellenbosch University student, Leila Siljeur (19) has decided to change this by creating an edible straw that allows people to consume their drinks – while doing their bit for the environment.
Siljeur, a second-year chemical engineering student, says that her idea came about while she was taking part in an entrepreneurship session at the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation with her mentor. “Paper straws are useless. After five minutes, you’re eating paper,” she says. Siljeur says she remembers thinking about the use of paper straws “This is so backward, we really need to move forward,” she adds.
Researching and experimenting to create edible straws
The student first strategised with her mentor, after which she created a team of eight female students. The team began researching and experimenting with different emulsifying, binding and deglazing agents. “I experimented over and over, until I got something that actually worked,” explains Siljeur.
So Eat Me Straws was brought to life – with Siljeur as the business’ sole owner. There are three ranges on offer – regular, vegan and health. The texture of the edible straw is similar to that of liquorice. The vegan variety makes use of a plant-based protein, while the health variety contains fruit flavours with no sugar.
Siljeur mentioned that they had been selling small batches of her edible straws, with the mixed berry vegan straw the most popular. Even kids like them; children apparently love the flavours of the chocolate and strawberry straws.
Also available is an alcohol-infusion straw, which could be perfect for use in restaurant and bar establishments. “I was experimenting once again and there aren’t many preservatives that a student can easily obtain over-the-counter at pharmacies,” Siljeur says. “But alcohol is. It all came about by accident and the results turned out really well,” she exclaims.
SABS certification will enable mass production
Earlier in 2019, Siljeur won R50 000 for her edible straws in an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree. This funding enabled her and her team to launch the processes of meeting SABS standards, which would take between three and six months. “This will enable us to mass-produce and supply to stores like Pick n Pay and Spar,” she says. Siljeur also has her sights set on supplying fast-food chains.
Once she has completed her studies, Siljeur said her plan is to become a businesswoman, instead of following a career as a chemical engineer. “I told my mom I want to save the planet and I want to do that through chemical solutions,” she says. Siljeur mentioned that her parents were somewhat overwhelmed by her success, but that they fully supported her and are extremely proud. “My hobby has turned into a full-blown business,” Siljeur concludes.
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