Snails are found everywhere and whilst most gardeners dislike them, here in Portugal instead of being a pest, snails are a culinary delicacy. June is the month when snails appear on menus and a new shop/restaurant has now opened near the Algarve Resident office, where you can enjoy a plate of snails for €2.50 or buy them to cook at home.

Although repulsive to many people, snails are consumed all over the world and are a very healthy thing to eat. Roasted snail shells found in archaeological excavations indicate humans have eaten them since prehistorical times and the Romans cultivated snails by feeding them special diets to improve their flavour.


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The species Theba Pisana, Otala Lactea and Helix Aspersa are the most consumed. They possess anti-cancer properties and boost the immune system due to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. An average snail is comprised of 80% water, 15% protein and 2.4% fat. They contain essential fatty acids, calcium, iron, selenium, magnesium and are a rich source of vitamins E, A, K and B12. However, despite these benefits, I could not eat one!

If you plan to collect and cook your own snails, note some should be avoided due to the plants they eat (such as daisies) which makes them taste very bitter. It can take up to 10 days to clean the snails prior to using them in a recipe involving lots of oregano and garlic.

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Although there is some farming of snails in Portugal (known as heliciculture or heliculture), most are imported from Morocco where they can be purchased alive at around €1 per kilo to be sold here for around €5. The latest trend is for snails’ eggs ‘Pearls of Aphrodite’, known as white caviar, retailing at around £1,600 per kilo. Mostly ‘farmed’ in Spain, the eggs are laid twice a year, collected with tweezers, washed, purified and sterilized before being lightly salted and tinned – this explains their high cost.

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Did you know that snails are also used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes? 

The benefits of snail slime were recognised in ancient Greece by Hippocrates who used it to heal skin and ulcers and to reduce scarring. More recently, Chilean snail farmers highlighted the benefits when they noticed cuts on their hands healed very quickly and their skin became softer. This is because the slime contains allantoin, antibiotics, glycolic acid, collagen and elastin, and so it heals and regenerates skin cells minimising scars.

In 2013, Louis-Marie Guedon in France began to harvest snail slime (without harming the snails) and now plans to produce 15 tonnes a year to meet the increasing demand from cosmetic companies wishing to incorporate the slime in their skincare products. In Tokyo, there is a spa where you pay to have snails slithering over your face, but personally I could not lie still with snails crawling over me no matter how rejuvenated it left my skin!

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So how much do you know about the life of a snail?

Belonging to the mollusc family, sea snails lived 550 million years ago and land snails evolved 286 million years ago. There are now 43,000 snail species found in different habitats around the world. Their bodies have no bones and their shells are made of calcium carbonate with protein layers which harden over time.

Water snails have the most intricate patterns in red, orange and yellow whereas land snails use camouflage colours such as white, brown and grey to hide from their many predators. Snails have a simple brain but are capable of associative learning and of forming long-term memories. They can lift up to 10 times their own body weight in a vertical position.

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Did you know snails have over 14,000 teeth on their tongue, which is rough like a cat’s, and they can locate food a few metres away due to their extraordinary sense of smell? The larger set of tentacles is their eyes, although they are almost blind and the smaller set is their olfactory organs.

Snails are one of the slowest creatures on earth, moving along at 1.3cm a second. Mostly active at night or during the day if it rains, many species hibernate in winter or during severe droughts, by sealing their entrance with dried mucus called an epiphragm and then glueing themselves to something in a shady place.

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The largest land snail recorded was a giant African snail measuring 12 inches long and weighing nearly two pounds. They only live for around five years although some species can live up to 25 years, (except around here as they are collected and cooked long before they grow up).

Snails are hermaphrodites so they have both male and female reproductive organs, but they still need another snail in order to fertilize each other’s eggs or they take it in turns which sex to be! Mating occurs at the end of spring into early summer and 80-100 eggs are laid in the soil.

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Snails are the largest Mollusk subgroup containing 10,000 species and 400 living families. Globally they are distributed in every habitat, underwater and on land. Most aquatic and marine animals are benthic in which few are swimmers. It encompasses a myriad of lifestyles from predators to algae grazers and incredible diversity of form. Usually, the shell is coiled but not always in the right-handed direction. An operculum is also present sometimes, a door that fits in the opening of the coiled valve and shutting animal inside for defence. Some snails have entire shell internal and are covered with skin. The groups which lack the protection of shell such as nudibranchs are elaborately coloured which assist them to blend with similar coloured background and warn predators of noxious taste.


The meat of snail is considered to be high-quality food packed with protein and is also a great source of iron. It contains 15% protein, 80% water and 2.4% fat which make it an alternative food for people requiring high protein low-fat diet. Snail is rich in essential fatty acids such as linoleic acids and linoleic acids.

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Transparent baby snails hatch within two to four weeks and it takes up to three months for them to fully develop their adult colours. They are usually a mirror image of their parents and reach adult size and sexual maturity in two or three years.

Some snail species are considered as one of the most invasive species in the world, causing great damage to agriculture. Typically, most gardeners try to exterminate snails using chemicals, however, a recent study has indicated that if you remove a snail 20 meters away, they will not return and it is, therefore, more ecologically friendly to collect and take them to some wasteland. So, throwing snails over the fence into your neighbour’s garden will not work as they will come back!

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Usually, gastropods have a single, spirally coiled shell but the shell is reduced or lost in some groups. Most of the snail has operculum, a plate which closes gastropod’s opening. Gastropods (shelled) have mantles and those without shells have decreased to absent mantles. Most species of Gastropods have muscular food which is used for creeping. The foot is modified for burrowing and swimming. Gastropods have a well-developed head which includes eyes at end of 1-2 pairs of tentacles.

Snails have a true coelom, a body is divided into three parts of the head, muscular foot and visceral mass and organ systems for respiration, circulation, excretion, digestion, reproduction and nerve conduction. Its body plan has torsion or twisting during larval development by visceral mass that twists 180 degrees in relation to head and bringing mantle cavity to anterior of an animal. Renal & anal openings and gills are near the front of the animal. Most snails are herbivorous in nature but many marine species and few land species may be carnivores or omnivores. Snail uses its radula to break its food. The radula is a chitinous structure which contains microscopic hooks known as cutculae. The snail scrapes at food with this and then transferred to the digestive tract.

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Snails have 1-2 pairs of tentacles on heads. In land snails, eyes are carried on the tips of the first set of tentacles and are roughly 75% of the width of eyes. The second set of tentacles operates as olfactory organs. Land snails have both sets of tentacles. Snail has cerebral ganglia which form a primitive sort of brain that has been divided into four sections. This structure is simple in comparison to brains of mammals, birds and reptiles. Snails are able to associative learning.


They move by alternating body contractions by stretching with a low speed of 1 millimetre per second. They create mucus to support locomotion by lowering friction. The mucus also lowers the chances of injury of snail. They have mantle which covers internal organ known as a foot.

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In wild, snails consume various different foods such as fruits, leafy vegetation, carrion and manure. They create damage to agricultural crops as well as garden plants and are considered as pets.


Some species lay eggs which contain large yolk. The eggs development might be within a body or might be expelled externally to develop. Eggs develop into larvae. While larvae, those species develop a shell. When an animal develops, it adds another curl of shell ending in an opening from which foot or head of the animal emerges.


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Snails are sexual and some are hermaphroditic which means a single individual can produce both eggs and sperm. Individuals exchange sperm with other individual instead of fertilizing themselves.

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Health Benefits of consuming Snails

Protein content

Snails offer a low-calorie source of protein which is required for repairing and building muscles. It helps to fill better than fat and carbs.

Presence of Iron

Snails are a great source of iron which is essential to build red blood cells and for transporting energy throughout the body. The deficiency of iron results in anaemia and extreme fatigue. Iron is a component part of haem groups of carrying oxygen proteins such as myoglobin and haemoglobin and electron carrying mitochondrial protein cytochrome. Iron has a vital role in coupled oxidations or reductions in such process as oxygen transport or cellular respiration. Iron-sulphur enzymes act as electron transferring reactions of mitochondria. Iron is available in intracellular cytochrome enzyme system with vital role in energy production as well as cellular respiration. Literally, iron from animal sources could be absorbed more in comparison to vegetables and cereals as the iron from plant sources are complexes with oxalates and phytates in plant. It makes a great source of iron in the diet.

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Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is required for the production of red blood cells, keeping the nervous system healthy and releasing energy from the food we eat and processing folic acid. Snails are loaded with vitamin B12.

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Snails are a great source of magnesium in which bodies are required for maintaining normal blood pressure, regular heartbeat and strengthen bones.

Presence of Selenium

Selenium found in bodies helps to keep the immune system healthy and protects cells from damage. Snails contain selenium in it.

Provides energy

The crude protein content was determined with the use of Soxhlet extraction apparatus to extract crude fat thoroughly from 4 of milled snail sample using petroleum ether in the soxhlet method of fat determination. The fat content weight extracted divided by the weight of sample multiplied by 100% gave per cent crude fat content. Ash is determined to be incinerating 5 g of milled snail sample at 550 oC overnight in a muffle furnace. Weights after and before ashing are used to calculate per cent content of ash. Drying 2 g of milled snail sample 105 oC for 3 h with the use of thermostatically controlled forced air oven determined moisture content. Weight difference after and before drying was used for calculating per cent moisture content. The obtained total carbohydrate was 100% by subtracting per cent amounts of crude fat, crude protein, ash and moisture. Snail sample’s energy value was obtained by multiplying per cent composition of fat, protein and carbohydrate.


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Copper is a part of tyrosinase enzyme i.e. essential for melanin pigment formation in the body. It is a part of lysyl oxidase molecule and other enzyme systems. Copper has a vital role in promoting normal function of connective tissues of bone. Snail meat is a great source of copper and is used to combat the malformation of bone structure. It stimulates utilization and absorption and synthesis of iron into cytochrome molecules and haemoglobin.


Above 80 enzymes such as carbonic anhydrase, alcohol dehydrogenase, RNA and DNA polymerases and carboxypeptidase are considered to require zinc. The high concentrations of zinc in sperm cells, prostate gland and eyes where it is assumed to play vital function and all tissues of the body. Zinc with vitamin A has a role in night vision and dark adaptation. People consume snail meat for curing eye problems.

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About ninety-nine per cent of calcium is present in teeth and bones and one per cent is found in body fluids and soft tissues. Calcium is found abundantly in A. Calcium is required for normal blood clotting. Snail meat fluid is used for stopping bleeding from cuts. The lower blood calcium level promotes nervous tissue irritability and low calcium level causes convulsion. Calcium depresses nerve irritability.


Snail is a great source of calcium orthophosphate which is a chemical substrate used to cure kidney diseases. The serving size of 200 grams of dried snail in the diet offers the daily requirement of calcium to lactating and pregnant women and also teenagers.

Source of potassium

Potassium is a key intracellular action and with sodium, it has an essential role in regulating water and acid-base & electrolyte balance in the body. Basically, potassium is required for lowering both diastolic and systolic blood pressure in people with high and normal blood pressure. Potassium lowers salt sensitivity which is an independent risk factor causing heart disease. It influences the contractility of skeletal and cardiac muscles and affects the excitability of nervous tissue. The deficiency of potassium results in muscular weakness, mental disorientation, increased nervous irritability and cardiac irregularities.

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  • Uncooked snail meat has rat lungworms that can cause numbness, headaches and spasms.
  • It may cause schistosomiasis and meningitis.
  • Avoid snail meat from unreliable sources.

How to Eat        


  • In Indonesia, snails are fried and the dish is called sate kakul.
  • Snails are cooked in the oven with rice or fried with red paprika powder and vegetable oil in a pan.



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