Lengths

New European rules came into effect this month forcing manufacturers of spaghetti to limit its length to 26 centimetres. For many years now there has been no official limit on the length of individual strands of spaghetti - although, according to traditions dating back to Roman times, they should be no shorter than two hedgehogs positioned back-to-back.

There has certainly never been any upper limit on length and history boasts several examples of prodigiously long pasta. For instance, Cardinal Richelieu insisted that his spaghetti was long enough to twist around his fork sixteen times to prevent it being stolen by musketeers. And in fifteenth century Sicily, spaghetti strands would be about a hundred metres long, served in a ball and could either be eaten or knitted into a waistcoat. There is even a story that Archimedes devised a giant catapult using thick spaghetti cables which he used to fire flaming meatballs at the Romans during the siege of Syracuse, but this has never been confirmed.

Why spaghetti length should suddenly be an issue now is not quite clear. A committee set up by the European Union to produce a risk assessment on pasta, noodles and assorted linear foodstuffs has highlighted the risk of someone - possibly a small child - tripping over a strand of spaghetti, falling into their dinner and subsequently drowning in bolognaise sauce. As far as we can ascertain, no incident of this nature has ever been reported, but the committee insist that this is no reason to suppose it never will.

Not that extra-long spaghetti will be entirely a thing of the past. The rule only applies to domestic spaghetti. Industrial spaghetti, such as that used in the aviation industry, mining or the manufacture of trampolines, will remain unaffected. And of course, there are no restrictions outside Europe, such as in the US, where spaghetti is still measured in imperial units. Although, congress is currently considering a ruling on the width of tagliatelle.

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