I drank nine soups through a bendy straw for the good of mankind

Assortment of canned soups
Photo: Lillian Stone

Straws make things more fun. You can show off on a first date by tucking two straws under your upper lip in a cool move that says, “I’m not like other girls—I’m a walrus.” You can cram wadded-up bits of napkin into a straw and craft a makeshift blow dart to discipline your kid brother. Straws help protect your teeth from Coca-Cola decay, they make milkshakes last longer, and they’re the backbone of trends like adult juice boxes. My question: Why are these miraculous vessels so often relegated to the beverage scene?

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We already know that straws offer both whimsy and expedited flavor delivery. So does it not stand to reason that consuming an entire meal through a straw is the secret to both ultra-efficiency and ultra-enjoyment? Are our tongues missing out on some sort of concentrated flavor experience that no mere spoon can deliver? What if I drank a buttload of soup through a straw to find out?

Invigorated by the Scientific Method, I set out to gather data. My quest: to consume a variety of canned soups with only a straw, sorting the unpleasantly chunky from the velvety smooth to determine if suction is in fact the superior way to eat soup. Needless to say, my findings were fascinating. They were also rich in clams, but we’ll get to that in a second.

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The methodology

Prior to sipping, I poured each soup into a microwave-safe plastic salsa bowl. (If you’d like to try slurping on the go, you might consider a chic travel mug, or perhaps a hip flask that reads “THERE’S SOUP IN HERE.”)

I then heated the soups. I did this to achieve the most realistic taste and texture, like what you’d eat with a spoon—but also so I didn’t have to drink cold clam chowder. Then, I sipped the soups through two different straws: a standard striped bendy straw and an extra-wide “smoothie straw” with a diameter about three times that of the bendy straw. I also tried to use the same straws for each soup instead of using a fresh one every time; unfortunately, I had to re-up a few times when the straws split because of overly ambitious suction.

The contenders

To select my soups, I checked in with the rest of the Takeout team. Personally, I’m cool with canned soup. Growing up a semi-latchkey kid, it made a pretty solid after-school snack, and I’ll still eat it for dinner every now and again. Turns out, everyone else hates the stuff. “It’s entirely stricken from my consciousness,” staff writer Allison Robicelli declared on Slack. “It’s a non-entity.” Unfazed, I swept my neighborhood Jewel for the widest variety I could find for under 20 bucks. The contenders, and their rankings, are as follows:

Absolutely Not: Bar Harbor New England Style Clam Chowder

I’m from southern Missouri and have spent very little time on the East Coast, so I’ve never really had good clam chowder. There was a short-lived Chowder Shack in my hometown, but it closed after the owner ripped into a Yelper who called the chowder “just fine.” The Chowder Shack also offered cotton candy and something the owner called “Mexican bean soup” (frijoles charros, maybe?), neither of which you can drink through a straw.

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  • Bendy Straw: Horrible. Horrible. New England chowder features hearty clam chunks, so the only thing that slithered up my bendy straw was the cream-based broth even after I switched my jaw into Dyson mode. Listen to me: There’s something really bad about a thin stream of creamy broth trickling into your mouth. I mean, bad. Trickling should be reserved for thin liquids. A creamy trickle is a bad trickle.
  • Smoothie Straw: Christ, these clam chunks are hearty. I did manage to coax one into the middle of my straw, but it got stuck, Augustus Gloop-style. I spent a good two minutes playing the straw like a pan flute to get the dang clam to shoot out, but I ended up trading in my straw for a fresh one. Chowder is firmly not a straw-friendly soup. Next!
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A Fool’s Errand: Campbell’s Chunky Beef with Country Vegetables

Unlike those goddamn city vegetables, country vegetables do not go up a straw. I knew this in my heart of hearts, but I tried it anyway. Because I am a scientist.

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  • Bendy Straw: Not happening. I even tried to stretch the straw’s opening by sticking my tongue into it as far down as it would go, which was, like, half a centimeter. All that did was split the straw and cut my tongue a little bit.
  • Smoothie Straw: This is some chunky beef, and the hearty veggies were at least twice the size of my smoothie straw’s diameter. Although I did manage to wrangle a few peas, Chunky Beef is spoon fare, cowboy.
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Prohibitively Gelatinous: Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of Mushroom isn’t something I’d think to enjoy by itself, although my fellow staff writer Dennis Lee swears it’s his favorite of the supermarket soups. I’ve always used it as an ingredient in things like casseroles and stews, but I figured it would be a fairly easy sipper. Boy, was I wrong.

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  • Bendy Straw: There’s a lesson here. If it jiggles, you’re gonna have a hard time sucking it up a straw. I managed to slurp up a few creamy mushroom pearls but had to abandon the soup after several minutes of unrequited suckage.
  • Smoothie Straw: I’m not sure why (maybe something to do with molecules?), but it was even harder to suck this one through the smoothie straw. It’s as if the soup’s gelatinous texture created more air inside each strawful, like that trick where you put your thumb on one end of a straw to trap soda in it. Decidedly not sippable.
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Moderately Slurp-able: Bar Harbor Manhattan-Style Clam Chowder

New England Style chowder is cream-based, but Manhattan-style chowder is basically vegetable soup with a tomato and clam juice broth base. Was it surprisingly slurp-able? Yes, yes it was. Did I enjoy slurping it? Not even a little bit.

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  • Bendy Straw: The clam meat is chopped up into tiny bits, so it shot up the bendy straw with very little suction on my part. Unfortunately, my wimpy straw was no match for the diced potatoes.
  • Smoothie Straw: I was able to suck up diced potatoes aplenty with the smoothie straw. Unfortunately, I also sucked up tons of canned clam bits at once, which is not a sensation I wish to revisit.
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A Pleasure to Slurp: Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup

I’ve been sipping Campbell’s Chicken Noodle for years, usually in a bowl or mug when I’m laid up with a cold. I had a feeling that it’d be a great contender for my little straw follies—but how was I going to handle the noodles?

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  • Bendy Straw: Sipping chicken broth is deeply pleasant, although it was a little weird to feel warm liquid creeping up my straw. (This was the case with all the soups, to be honest.) Much to my surprise and delight, the noodles went up the straw pretty easily. To speed things up, I used the straw to lightly chop the noodles and ease their entry into the chute. But overall, Lady Campbell went down smooth without much coaxing.
  • Smoothie Straw: Weirdly enough, the noodles were harder to slurp with the Big Daddy Straw. I think it’s because it’s easier to chop the noodles up into little segments with the bendy straw. Regardless, this is one for the bendy crowd.
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Smooth and Hearty: Wolfgang Puck Organic Tomato Basil Bisque

Quick bisque refresher: A classic bisque usually involves heavy cream and shellfish stock. This version doesn’t have the shellfish base, but it’s still really, really good—straw or no straw.

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  • Bendy Straw: I may have to rescind my earlier statement about a creamy trickle being a bad trickle, because this was a pleasure to drink through a straw. Smooth and filling, it went up (down?) easy despite the hearty tomato chunks.
  • Smoothie Straw: See “bendy straw.” I love this bisque.

Don’t Mind If I Do: Hormel Chili Angus Beef Chili (No Beans)

My coworker Dennis made me try this one, and I really wasn’t excited about it. Obviously, I selected the bean-free chili for its efficacy in the 2020 Straw Probe, but otherwise I’d never opt for chili sans beans. Hormel Chili is also One Thick Mother, so I didn’t have high hopes for its sippability.

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  • Bendy Straw: Houston, we have beef! Much to my surprise, the chili shot right up my straw. The chili chunks were pretty finely ground, making them looser than chunks in the other soups. It also didn’t taste too shabby, although I maintain that the beany version is probably more satisfying.
  • Smoothie Straw: Same deal. Shockingly easy to slurp Hormel through straws of any size. It did make my breath smell like the Super Bowl, but I don’t think that’s the straw’s fault.
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Surprisingly Effective: Amy’s Organic Minestrone

Amy’s Minestrone is generously adorned with fusilli noodles. That makes it an awesome option for everyday lunchtime enjoyment, but a tricky contender for straw research. Still, it’s got a great veggie flavor and it’s extremely hearty, making it my personal favorite canned minestrone.

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  • Bendy Straw: Again, this is a really hearty minestrone, so very little soupy substance cleared the straw to grace my waiting lips. Didn’t work.
  • Smoothie Straw: Like the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, I was able to chop the fusilli into smaller, more straw-friendly bits. The only issue is the sound. Slurping fusilli up a smoothie straw sounds really gross—like the kind of sound I imagine a tugboat emits as it cruises across a musky swamp. That makes this a fun soup for platonic slurping, but I probably wouldn’t sip it on a hot date.
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Easy and Intestinally Friendly: Progresso Broccoli Cheese with Bacon

Cheese-based soups usually give me a stomachache, but I was pleasantly surprised with the aftermath of this experience. I do want to note here that I opened this can to find a human hair floating on top, but I proceeded anyway. As I write this, there are journalists reporting live from war zones, so it seems like this is the least I can do for my profession.

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  • Bendy Straw: Easy peasy. Drinking this through the slim straw also made me consume it much slower than I typically would, which means there was far less gastric distress to follow.
  • Smoothie Straw: Again, very easy to slurp. Just make sure you take your time, as the nature of the smoothie straw makes it very easy to go to town on this cheesy bastard in a way that some stomachs are calling “upsetting.”
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After consuming about 75 gallons of broth and destroying several plastic straws, my mission was complete. So, can you drink soup through a straw? Yes, yes you can. Is it fun? Honestly, kinda. With some thinner soups like chicken noodle or tomato bisque, you’ll probably enjoy the experience like I did. These findings may also come in handy for times when you’re forced to get your nutrients through a straw, like if your tongue falls off or you get your braces hooked on someone else’s while kissing. Either way, just remember to avoid clams at all costs.

Staff writer @ The Takeout. Pork shoulder princess @ Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

simon-on-the-river3
simon-on-the-river3

In a previous world, I knew a chap with MS who used to say “People ask me if I have a drink problem. Well, I spill most of it.” Towards the end of his life, it wasn’t possible for him to eat without assistance or chug away at something in a tommy tipee mug. So did you try blitzing your chunky soups in a blender at all?

What is the best adaptive soup bowl/mug for chunky soup?