You’d probably seen these little creatures in your backyard or in a garden, that is their natural habitat, green surroundings. They come out a lot when it rains and they love moist environments. Although they look slimy and that can easily be a turn off, they are known for their unique and flavored taste. Apart from this, snails contain a tremendous amount of protein and other essential nutrients.
Also called Congo meat, there are different species of snails and not all species of land snail are edible. Some are also too small to make it the cooking pot. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from specie to specie. In France, the specie called Helix pomatia is most often eaten, while in Nigeria, it is Archachatina marginata, the giant brown ones that are edible. Both species deliver nutritious benefits.
According to Mrs Ukpong Udofia, a nutritionist at the University of Uyo, snails can help reduce anemia caused by a lack of iron in one’s diet. She analyzed the nutritional value of snails and found it to have a higher protein and iron content, and lower in fat content than beef. Snails also contain many essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin A.
The snail slime is extremely rich in allantonin, collagen and elastin, which is beneficial for the treatment of skin diseases and broken bones. The secretions also have a copper peptide, which is regarded as the only source of a substance manufactured for creating creams that are useful in minimizing scars and wounds. Serum secreted by these snails is an excellent source of oligosaccharides that act as a hydrator for the skin. When applied directly on the skin, this serum works wonders for acne, enhances natural glow and protects skin cells from environmental damage.
An average Snail incredibly comprises of 80 per cent water, 15 per cent protein, and 2.4 per cent fat which is primarily healthy fat. Essential fatty acids, calcium, iron, selenium, and magnesium are also found in snails. They are a rich source of vitamins too, being packed with vitamins E, A, K and B12. According to a recent research, 75 per cent of the fat in snail is unsaturated fatty acids.
Snails are good for weight watchers because they are a good source of proteins but low in calories and fat. A 100-gram serving size of snails has only 90 calories. This serving provides 16 grams of protein, which is a filling nutrient.
Snails are a great source of the valuable lectin, which is one of the greatest anti-cancer properties. The mucous exuded by these creatures contain a copper compound which helps in healing after an injury or scalding and also helps in preventing heart disorders.
However, snail could pose a public health threat if eaten raw and infected with the rat lungworm parasite (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), which can cause a rare form of meningitis in humans. It is advisable to eat only farmed snails and to ensure that the snails you eat had eaten only non-poisonous foods.
As a note of caution, it is important to mention that you need to properly cook snails before you consume them, even if they are purchased. Failure to do so can result in parasites entering the body. The failure to cook them properly can result in people becoming very ill.
Cleaning and removing shells from snails
Just before you cook them, you must know how to wash snails and remove them from their shells. To remove the snail form the shell, you will need a blunt object to crack the shell. You can use a mallet or a stone. There are several ways of cleaning snails:
Hot water soak
This method is easy but not the best because some nutrients in the snail will vanish and it softens the meat. Hot water lubricates the interior of the shells and enables snails to easily slip out. This method however, keeps the shells intact, and available for ‘decoration’ purposes. Soak the snails in a pot of hot water. Let them sit for a few minutes, then using a fork, pierce the meat protruding from the largest part of the shell and pull the snail out and discard the light grey sack that is above the feet of the snail.
Cleaning snails with alum is the most common method in Nigeria and the most effective of all the items that can remove snail slime. Alum is hydrated potassium aluminium sulfate (potassium alum), a solid, crystalline chemical with astringent qualities and the ability to cut through grease and slime. And is also used in the cosmetic industry to stop bleeding when nicks and small cuts occur, and as deodorant! To clean snails, you rub the alum over the snail after removing it from the shell, and the inside, where it was opened up. Rub every inch of the snail, especially the hinges, That part of the snail acts as a pool, trapping slime so one has to ensure it is properly cleaned. Once you are done cleaning with alum, rinse off the snails and check for residual slime.
Salt and garri
Both Salt and garri have abrasive properties that is why they are used to remove snail slime. Though garri is less preferred since it is a staple food in itself. Simply put lots of salt or garri into a bowl ofsnails. Rub it on the snails till the slime is gone.
Lime, lemon or vinegar
Where alum is not available, it is possible to use either lime, lemon or vinegar. It works the same way as alum. Though lime and lemon have acidic properties, lemon is more efficient than lime. ou can see the slime shrink not long after you sprinkle lemon juice on the snails.
Recipe for peppered snail
Snails can be served as a healthy snack or accompanied with rice, plantain or whatever meal you want to serve with them. To fully enjoy snails, make them crunchy and a bit peppery.
Ingredients for Peppered Snails
- 10 medium snails
- 4 habanero peppers (or to your taste)
- 5 plum tomatoes
- 1 onion
- 1 Green Pepper, (optional)
- 1 big stock cube
- 1 cooking spoon vegetable oil
- Salt (to taste)
- Place the washed snails in a pot of water that covers them.
- Put the stock cube and the chunk of onion.
- Cover and start cooking on medium heat. While cooking, top up the water when necessary so it does not burn.
- Put the sliced tomatoes, pepper and onions in another pot and start cooking on medium heat. Steam them till they are soft. Stir from time to time so it does not burn.
- After 25- 35 minutes, the snails should be well cooked. But notice that the tongue of the snails is still crunchy even when the snails are done.
- Remove the chunks of onion from the snails. Increase the heat to high and stir constantly till all the remaining liquid in the pot is absorbed. You don’t want to lose any flavour by pouring away the snail stock. Set it aside.
- When the water dries from the pepper, tomatoes and onions, add the vegetable oil and fry for about 5 minutes. Stir continuously so it does not stick to the pot.
- Add salt and stir very well.
- Add the cooked snail. Stir very well and add more salt if necessary.
- Leave to cool down a bit, insert toothpicks in each snail and serve with onions.
Short takes on snails
Snails are delicious, tasty and nutricious
- They are way cheaper than any red meat.
- Snail farming is relatively cheaper in Nigeria than chicken or fish farming.
- Snail serum has both anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that are good for the skin.
- It is advisable to put snails on a three-day fast before cooking, of only water and flour to purify them of parasites and poisonous substances they may have eaten .
- The best method of storing snails is to put them into a receptacle with a lid, to prevent them from climbing out.
- It helps to throw in some green leaves for the snails to feed on before they meet their fate in the pot.