Snails as Food

A gastronomic delicacy?

Humans have consumed Land snails for thousands of years. They are low in fat, high in water and proteins and are part of several dishes. Its consumption is not very common in areas of America, but in Europe, they have meals considered delicacies.

Since prehistoric times, man all over the world consumed different kinds of animals for survival, and that sometimes included snails. In several parts of the ancient world including the Roman Empire, snails were part of their cuisine. In fact, they even farmed snails so there would be a huge supply to meet the demand.

Heliciculture is the practice of snail farming for the purpose of earmarking them for human use, mostly as food. According to the Roman historian Pliny, the Elder, heliciculture was practiced on the estate of a man, called Fluvius Hirpinus, situated in an area of ​​what is now Italy, in 50 AD. However, humans ate snails since prehistoric times, according to discoveries of supposedly roasted shells.

The Romans had a significant history of eating snails. According to Pliny, the Elder, Fluvius Hirpinus fed his snails with wine and meat, which gives an idea of ​​how important they were in Roman cuisine.

That practice to consume them did not stop then. Snails still are a huge industry for the restaurant business. Nowadays, the dishes made with land snails are exclusive in many areas of France, Great Britain, and some other countries, where they have high prices and are part of unique recipes. Offering them is getting a standard for special receptions and other fancy affairs.

In France, snails are common and referred with the French word “Escargot.”

Land Snails as Food, Escargots

Land snails are part of the European cuisine. It is no secret that many people find snails to be delicious as an appetizer or as a main course. There are plenty of popular recipes out there for cooking them, and many people prepare them at home. Such dishes are typical in many elite restaurants as well.

In France, snails are common and referred with the French word “Escargot.” When cooked, snails are prepared with garlic and parsley butter, added for seasoning, and served in their shell. They are very expensive because they are considered a delicacy.

In Greece and Italy snail are often consumed in a variety of meals, and sometimes they are used in sauces and poured over various types of pasta. People from other countries like Spain, Portugal, and Germany also consume them. In the US there is a huge market for Escargots usually imported from many countries. Many of the recipes found in some restaurants are similar from those found in the European restaurants.

Some believe that snails for eating arrived in the United States (California) in the 1850’s. Either by immigrants or by consumers, but some of them escaped, and it didn’t take long for them to be all over the country.

Later, some started to farm snails to sell them. In fact, some of the farmers in California were selling them on the market along with their fruits and vegetables. However, wild snails can carry deadly diseases. Therefore regulations in the U.S. to sell and farm them were established to avoid improper handling.

Escargot is the common name for snails when prepared in a meal. Millions of snails are consumed around the world annually. In fact, there is even a day to celebrate it! May 24th is the National Escargot Day.

Edible Snails.

Not all land snails are edible. In France, the Roman snail (Helix pomatia), the garden snail (Helix aspersa) and, to a lesser extent, the European snail (Helix lucorum) are the only species eaten. Helix aspersa is called “Le Petit Gris” in France and escargot is also an aperitif served in many restaurants in France and Spain.

Other edible species are Cepaea nemoralis, Cepaea hortensis, Achatina fulica, Helix aperta and Otala punctata. The preparation of anyone involves fasting the snails for a few days to be purged, to eliminate their viscera, to cook them and many times, to place them back in the shells to serve. Chefs prepare them with butter, garlic and some types of herbs such as dill and parsley and are served in their shell on a specific dish to prevent them from sliding out and falling. The meat has a slightly hard texture. Also, some eat snail eggs as caviar.

Is possible to find snails and canned eggs in supermarkets.

In various parts of the Mediterranean area, it is possible to find snails and canned eggs in supermarkets. In resume, there are many dishes made with land snails, and in some regions, they are part of their unique gastronomy. There are farms dedicated to breeding snails, mainly in France, Indonesia, Poland, Greece, and Germany. Only in Portugal, people consume about 4,000 tons of land snails annually!

There is even an annual event dedicated to them. L’Aplec del Caragol is a gastronomic festival held for three days in Lérida, Spain, at the end of May. It is devoted to the land snail as food, especially the species Helix aspersa, garden snail, and attracts hundreds of visitors who enjoy other activities besides music and entertainment.

Some recipes cooked that day:

mark     Escargots Gratin

mark     Escargots in Herbed Cream

mark     Escargot a la Bourguignonne

mark     Saffron Tagliarini With Snails & Sorrel

mark     Mushroom & Escargot Soup

mark    Burgundian Escargots With Spaghetti
If you haven’t tried snails, the idea may not be very appealing to you. However, you may find that you like them.

Danger in food

Although the consumption of land snails is present in the gastronomy and it is part of the culture of some regions, it is a worrying fact that these animals sometimes carry several parasites, mainly nematodes. If they are not cleaned or cooked properly, the parasites are capable of affecting the human body and producing fatal conditions.

Both handling and cooking of land snails should be extremely careful to avoid any health problems. If you are not sure about its species, its origin or its handling, avoid eating them.

The most common type of snail used for eating is the garden species. However, if you have a garden with snails, do not try to catch them and prepare yourself, wild snails can carry a parasite that can cause meningitis among other diseases.

Before cooking snails, chefs put them on fasting for three days only with water and then feed them with flour and water for one week to purify them. After that, they cook them probably as one of the recipes mentioned before.



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