An Overview Of Snail Consumption and Farming

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Humans have been consuming snails for thousands of years. Snails are very high in proteins, iron, and water, while being low in fat. Snail consumption is popular in various countries around the world. Currently, the global snail farming or heliciculture industry achieves sales of greater than $12 billion annually. Let’s take a closer look at the consumption of snails and the basics of starting a snail farm.

Countries known for eating and cultivating snails

Snail consumption and cultivation are popular to varying degrees in France, the U.S., Turkey, China, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, as well as African countries including Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Ghana. In France, the delicacy known as escargot is an actually cooked snail. Escargot is very popular in many parts of Europe as well.

History of snails as food

Based on archeological evidence, it is known that ancient humans ate snails. Piles of empty snail shells have been uncovered at many prehistoric sites. A study reveals snails used to be an extra food source for Palaeolithic humans in Spain. For over 30,000 years, the Iberus aloneness snail has played a role in the gastronomy of Spain. The Benidorm area of Spain is believed to be the first recorded place where humans consumed snails. Around 10,000 years later, people along the Mediterranean coast of Northern Africa, Italy, France, Greece and the Middle East were eating snails.

Eating snails started in the United States in the 1850s. During that time, snails were sold in the markets in California along with vegetables and fruits. The popularity of escargot has led to having a separate National Escargot Day in the United States celebrated on May 24th each year. 

It should be stressed that not all species of land snails are edible. Some most commonly eaten species of land snails include Helix pomatia, Cornu aspersa, Helix lucorum, Iberus aloneness and Elona quimperiana.

How are snails eaten?

People who eat snails find snails to be delicious as the main course or as an appetizer. There are plenty of recipes, especially in European countries, that include snails. Finding snails on the menu is common in elite restaurants in Europe. As already mentioned, Escargot is a very popular snail dish. It is prepared with parsley butter and garlic and served in snail shells. Snails are also used in sauces and poured over various types of pasta in Italy and Greece.

Health benefits of eating snails

As mentioned above, snails are high in proteins and water and low in fat. Additionally, there are many other health benefits of eating snails.

A 3-ounce serving of cooked snails delivers 76 calories with no cholesterol or sugar, as well as over one-third of an adult’s daily vitamin E requirement. It promotes the production of red blood cells that benefit muscles and other tissues. Additionally, snail consumption can give you one-half of daily recommended selenium intake. Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that helps prevent heart disease, thyroid. Snails also contain minerals.

A single serving of escargots can provide you with one-sixth of the daily requirement of iron, as well as nearly 10 percent of the potassium, one-third of the phosphorus, and two-thirds of the magnesium. Snails contain tryptophan which is important chemical human brains need. Eating snails thus can be a good mood booster.

Snail farming basics

Want to start a snail farming business? Here are some of the basics you need to know. 

  • Check your state regulatory requirements: Heliciculture U.S. cautions potential snail farmers in the U.S. to review their state requirements as an initial step if you are considering the possibility of starting a snail farm. The two species of snails commonly used as escargot in North America (C. aspersum and H. pomatia) are designated as invasive, non-indigenous species, thus considered to be plant pests by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and numerous state agencies. A permit is required for the movement of live snails or fertilized snail eggs between states, where permitted, as outlined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Section 330“No person shall knowingly move any plant pest into or through the United States from any place outside thereof, or interstate, or knowingly accept delivery of any plant pest so moving unless such movement is authorized under permit under this part and is made in accordance with the conditions therein and the provisions in this part.“
  • Various restrictions or bans are in effect, depending upon the state. Check out the rules and regulations, permits and restrictions of snail farming in your state during the initial phase of your research.
  • Ensure proper containment facility requirements: As Heliaculture U.S. notes, “To obtain a permit for interstate transport, you must apply through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. The so-called PPQ 526 permit allows individuals to transport live non-native snails, but with certain conditions.”
  • The proper quarantine and containment of live snails are essential, as outlined in USDA’s CONTAINMENT GUIDELINES for Nonindigenous Snails. As invasive pests, it is critical that snails do not escape from your farm, and so necessary safeguards must be taken. In addition, live snails grown at a farm may not be transported live to a restaurant or any other location. They must be processed within the containment facility.
  • Various snail farming systems: Four basic types of snail farming systems are utilized. These include the use of outdoor pens, inside of controlled climate buildings, inside of plastic tunnel houses or greenhouses, as well as a combination approach involving the use of a controlled environment for breeding and hatching, with snails then being moved to outdoor pens to mature.
  • Soil: Appropriate soil conditions are required. Soil should be neither too sandy nor too heavy, as snails tend to dry out in the sand, but face difficulty digging in heavy soils. A neutral pH is recommended, with an organic concentration of 20 to 40 percent. Limestone can be added as necessary. Soil calcium is essential for snail shell growth.
  • Climate: Snails flourish in a mild climate (59–77 °F) and high humidity (75% to 95%), although most species tolerate a broader range of temperatures. At lower temperatures, snails stop growing and eventually hibernate. Higher temperatures or dry soil conditions caused by excessive wind may also lead to dormancy. Controlled environment growing can expand the geographic range where snails may be grown.
  • Materials Needs: depending upon the type of snail farming system used, major materials you need may include free range pens, moveable pens, mini paddock pens, trench pens, hatch boxes, mosquito nets, and concrete blocks. Climate control equipment like sprinklers and humidifiers may also be required.
  • Feeding The Snails: Most snails are basically vegetarian and accept various types of feed. They prefer cabbage, flowers, tubers, fruits and green leaves as their food. Snails also require drinking water.
  • Mating and egg-laying: Snails have both male and female reproductive organs. Generally, mating occurs in spring or early summer, with eggs laid within a few weeks of intercourse. Soil at least two inches deep is necessary for the laying of eggs.
  • Harvesting: it takes up to 2 years for snails to be sellable. The brim of the shell of a snail tells if it is matured or not. The thicker and harder the shell, the more mature it is. Once the snails are matured, you can sell the snails and keep a few for breeding.
  • Marketing and Selling: As mentioned above, the transport of live snails is not permitted, meaning that they must be processed within your containment facility. As such, commercial opportunities for smaller producers will be limited.

To “dig deeper” in your exploration of snails, check out USDA’s Publications and Websites About Snail Farming. Another useful resource to check out snail farming in greater detail is Escargot World. At their website, they offer A Guide to Snail Farming, available for $32.95.