It is a classic image of bars: flat, round or turned, on the bar or on the table, the toothpicks are packed one by one or in that cylindrical toothpick that we will shake until the wooden punch comes out of the hole made ad hoc . However, another postcard is falling into oblivion, for better or worse. Because although the chopsticks remain, it seems that they have been deprived of one of their functions, that of extracting the remains of food between the teeth – and the subsequent rest in the corners of the lips.
For protocol experts, their deprecation is a relief. “It is not correct to use chopsticks to clean your teeth. It is a complete lack of education. Removing a chewed piece of food from between the teeth, poked on the toothpick, is an unpleasant image, ”explains Julia Vañó, professor of protocol applied to the hotel industry in the master's degree and the diploma that are taught at the International School of Protocol of Granada. , of which she is also deputy director. "If toothpicks continue to be placed on the tables, it is to be able to pierce some type of small food, such as olives."
So what do we do if we realize that we have something stuck between our teeth? “We must wait until we finish eating or, if not possible, until before dessert, to get up, go to the bathroom and, in that private area, clean up. Preferably, we will not use a toothpick, since today it does not make sense. People with interdental spaces that suffer from these problems tend to floss, which would be the most correct thing. Of course, the protocol expert does not approve of walking the toothpick between the lips either.
But toothpicks didn't always have the bad name they do. It is estimated that the first ones were used in prehistoric times and the oldest ones that are preserved date from the time of the pharaohs when, in Egypt, they were an essential element of dental hygiene at that time. In the 16th century they were luxury objects and were treated as such, made of noble materials and profusely adorned with precious stones, as in the painting The Marriage of Canaan, by Veronese (1563), in which the poet and Marchioness of Pescara, Vittoria Colonna, at the table, is about to insert a gold toothpick into her mouth.
Five centuries later, Drake appeared on the cover of issue 100 of the music magazine Fader with a gold toothpick in his hand, making the classic grimace that its use requires: gritting the teeth, closing one eye and slightly parting the lips. Between one and the other, the toothpick survives in the collective imagination associated with the badass aesthetic, the truly criminal, the tough guys, the tavern.
Be that as it may, the exclusive golden awl of the upper classes became the object of all when Marc Signorello invented a toothpick-making machine in 1869 and yet another was patented by Silas Noble and J. P. Cooley in 1872. It was not until another century. late that one of the companies that currently distributes a large part of the chopsticks sold in Spain was founded in Barcelona. "Since 1986 we have been importing chopsticks, made from birch, from China, where it is also part of their culture," explains Josep Maria Bel, commercial director of Don Palillo. But they are not only typical there: also in Japan, where they are made in bamboo and are called tsuma-yoji, or in Morocco, the khella, which is the dried biznaga plant, was used for this purpose to care for dental hygiene. To this day, dentists do not recommend the use of toothpicks due to the damage that their use can cause to the gums.
At Don Palillo they created the mythical triangular toothpick holder, in which the first consumer makes a small hole to extract the toothpick, similar to the cylindrical toothpick holder that was exported from China. Bel explains that his toothpicks are made of birch wood and that the catering industry is still his biggest client. “However, sales have decreased as a result of the pandemic: objects such as toothpicks, which many used to buy in bulk and dispose of in small containers, have been withdrawn and have not been incorporated again in a large part of the businesses. Those who do have them again at their tables and bars have opted for single-dose chopsticks, which are wrapped in paper”.
For its part, Betik has been a national manufacturer of toothpicks from 1940 to 2021, at which time it decided to import them without changing their composition: poplar, birch or bamboo wood, according to Nerea Aranbueu from the sales department of the brand characterized by the famous crocodile. "Supermarkets and large stores are our main customers, as well as hospitality distributors," they say, and maintain that in their case sales have been maintained and "in sheathed chopsticks they have even increased." From Betik they clarify a popular doubt: "flat chopsticks are used more for pintxos and food because that way what they go through is better sustained, and the round ones are normally for hygienic use."