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Question: I am wondering if you can tell me what kind of snails you can eat or which provide the most popular eating.




Answer: You can eat most snails (except those classed as poisonous), but there are many varieties and getting the variety right does affect the flavour. Here are just a few of the many edible snails available. The type of snail you are able to collect will depend on where you live.

Commercial edible snails are normally cultivated versions of the common snails you will find in your garden.

In the Mediterranean during the dry months of July, August and September when the wild greens have withered, you will see many people gathering wild snails for cooking. At this time they are collecting dormant snails, (it is a good way of keeping your garden snail free). However, if you are going to eat wild snails, do ensure that they are not from areas contaminated with harmful pesticides. It is also important to clean and prepare the snails properly. Put the dormant snails in a large pot with a heavy top and moisten with water. Use enough to waken the sleeping snails, but not enough to drown them (8 fl oz), cover and weight the lid to prevent the snails escaping. You will hear them gurgling and climbing up the sides of the pot and falling back in. Rinse them and do the same again. This time when they emerge weight the lid and put the pot on a very low heat. As the water reaches boiling point, they die blissfully unaware and without retreating into their shell where they are difficult to reach. Steam them for about 10 minutes and add a little more water if necessary. While they are steaming prepare your garlic and other ingredients. Drain the cooked snails and rinse them in cold water. Insert the point of a small pointed knife into the seam of the spiral of the shell and scrape out the black bit if you can see it - this is the snail's stomach.

Dormant snails conveniently purge their own insides and in cold countries snails can be collected after hibernation in late winter. But, if they are alive and crawling when you collect them, you will have to purge them. It is dangerous to skip this, as they may have eaten something that is dangerous for you. If you have cooked snails before, you probably know all this, but I think it is worth mentioning again!

So here are some snails.

Edible land snails range from about one millimetre long to the giant African snails which can grow to about 312mm (1 foot) in length. The most popular edible snails are Helix Aspera and Helix Pomatia although other varieties are eaten. There is a giant African snail Achatina fulica which is sliced and canned and sold to consumers as escargot. When people refer to garden snails or common brown garden snails they are covering a wide variety of types of snail, although they are often referring to Helix Aspera which is very common.

Helix Aspera - is native to the shores of the Mediterranean. It is also found all over the British Isles where it was introduced by the Romans. It was brought to California by French immigrants in the early 1800s and is now common throughout the US. This species is very adaptable to different climates and conditions and this, therefore, makes farming this type of snail easier.

Helix pomatia - is native all over Europe. It is also called "Roman snail," " apple snail," and "lunar." It lives in wooded mountains and vineyards up to 6,000 feet. It is likely to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans and introduced into the US by immigrants from France and Italy. Many people prefer the flavour of the Helix pomatia to Helix Aspera. It is also larger in size.

Helix lactea - also called Spanish snail or milk snail. Its shell is white with reddish brown spiral bands. It measures about 26 to 35mm, again it is considered better flavoured than Helix Aspera.

Helix aperta
- has highly prized meat. It is native to France, Italy and other Mediterranean countries and is now established in California and Louisiana. It is about 25 mm and is sometimes called the "burrowing snail" and is normally only found above the ground during rain. When the weather is hot and dry it will burrow three to six inches into the ground. It then becomes dormant until the rain softens the ground.

Helix hortensis - also called the "wood snail" is about 25 mm across the shell. It is found in Central Europe and now inhabits many US states, from Massachusetts to California and Tennessee to Canada. It normally lives in woods and dunes and lives off dead plant material, nettles, buttercups even dead worms and dead snails.

Theba pisana - the "banded snail" measures about 20mm and lives usually near the sea on dry exposed sites. It is native to Sicily but has now spread all over Europe, Britain and now the US. It is called the "white snail" and was once eradicated in California by the use of flamethrowers. When the numbers are large they can destroy gardens and orchards in a matter of hours.





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