Snail, also known as abalone, queen conch, sea ear, ormer, escargot and caracoles, is a mollusk that is found both on land and water. These mollusks are being used since thousands of years for making jewelry from their shells and for consumption purpose. The meat of snails has been consumed since thousands of years. Delicate in texture, the meat is usually mild flavored and is relished the most with seasonings.
The consumption of snail meat is the highest in Western Europe and Western Africa. Helix pomatia and Helix aspersa are the most relished snail varieties.
Snail meat recipes vary from cuisine to cuisine. The meat of the snail is served as a delicacy in Japanese, Chinese and Asian countries. In France, escargot is the term commonly used for snail meat, where it is served as an appetizer. The people of America and Australia consume the snail meat as the main dish, whereas, the Giant African snail is served in Nigeria and South Africa as one of the traditional foods.
History of Snail Meat
The meat of the snails has been relished for thousands of years. This is evident through the fact that a large number of empty snail shells have been found in the dwellings of prehistoric men. The Greeks and Romans also are said to have consumed this mollusk from many years and still enjoy it in several snail meat recipes. In Rome, the meat of this mollusk was considered to contain aphrodisiac properties and was served to the royal guests visiting the kingdom.
The snails were introduced to United States in 1850. The meat became very popular in very less time and snail harvesting gradually became a commercialized activity in the region. The fruit and vegetable vendors also started selling the mollusks and are said to have made good money.
The snail meat recipes were also popular in many parts of the world as in ancient Medicine system; it was thought to be a cure for asthma and ulcers.
Worldwide Consumption of Caracoles
Europe and North America dominate the international trade of snail. The consumption of snails in France is approximately 5 million kg every year. About sixty percent of snails in France are imported. Italy, on the hand, consumes 306 million snails every year. The people of West Africa, inhabiting the high forest belts, consume snail meat as a regular ingredient. Nigeria also imports snail meat to meet the annual consumption.
Nutritional Value of Escargots
A snail is a rich source of protein and contains very low fat. The snail meat has approximately 15% protein, 80% water and 2.4 % fat. 75% of the fat in snail meat consists of unsaturated fatty acids. Due to the rich content of protein and low fat, snail is often considered to be a healthy food. Also, mollusk is a rich source of essential fatty acids like linoleic acids and linolenic acids.
Besides, a recent research has shown that consumption of snails can also benefit in curing whooping cough and many other ailments. The meat was used for aiding development of infants in ancient medicine. Also, the snails when consumed, help in lowering blood pressure.
Edible Abalone Types
There are approximately 116 edible snail varieties available. The two most commonly eaten snails in France and other parts of the world are Petit Gris and Escargot De Bourgogne. Wild Africa giant snails, achatina achatina and archachatina marginata are also consumed in bulks. Apart from these, garden snails are consumed the most. Wild snails are also edible and are used for snail meat dishes; however, one needs to have information about the edible varieties. The wild snail meat taste depends on the diet of the snail and if the snails live on some poisonous plants, they may transfer the same if not purged properly.
Methods Involved In Cooking Snails
Snail meat recipes usually call for different cooking methods in different cuisines. In France, the meat of a snail is often cooked in oil and garlic is used for seasoning. The people of Italy and Greece cook them in sauces and relish the tasty bites of meat over the pasta. The snails are usually eaten with a fork.
Buying and Cleaning Queen Conch for Consumption
It is usually recommended to purchase live snails that have been well nourished and have stayed in water. Packaged live snails should be avoided as they might have some dead snails also. Frozen snails can also be bought for using them in snail meat recipes.
Snails can also be trapped from the home garden and can be cooked. They are usually found after rains.
Snails, once bought, are first washed well under cold running water. The dead snails are discarded. Once rinsed and sorted, they are usually boiled for three- four minutes. The shells of the snails are then pulled and kept aside. The snails are then put in a container of cold salted water and left for at least an hour. This makes the meat free of slime and pulls out the excessive moisture from the meat. Once done, the snails are again washed under running water and finally used in different snail meat recipes.
However, if the snails are collected from garden, they need to be cleansed internally to make them free of any poison or grit. The cleansing or purging is usually done by feeding the snails a mixture of lettuce and herbs like thyme, marjoram and parsley for at least a week.
The meat of the snails should be well cooked before consumption. If not cooked properly, harmful parasites can get into the eater's system and can lead to meningitis. Food poisoning is also very common after eating snails which are not cooked properly.
24th May is celebrated as National Escargot Day in France.