Food Profile - African Giant Snails


African Giant Snail
(pic courtesy flickr.com)

I watched, with much interest one of Gordon Ramsey's cookery videos on how to cook snails. This was really because I wanted to gain a better understanding of the British's attitude towards this delicacy and of course to have some standards with which I could make comparisons with how we prepare and cook ours and also how the French cook theirs!

The French are more known for their escargot in the western world and as expected, snails are like "Marmite" you either love them or hate them. So what exactly are these creatures:

African Giant Snails
Snail (igbin in the Yoruba language) is the general term used to reference the shelled, slimy creature commonly found in back gardens, yards, farm lands and the rain forests. Though there are quite a number of varieties, the land snail is the most familiar to man, used for food and in cosmetics.

Snails come in different sizes depending on their geographical location. Those found in Europe are smaller while those typically found in West Africa are much larger, growing up to about 20cm in length. Their shell is a variegated shade of brown/dark brown with a fleshy muscular body having similar colours or sometimes dark grey and black.

In Nigeria, snails are a delicacy enjoyed particularly by the people in the western regions where they are typically cooked and served in stews or soups, or fried and eaten as snacks, canapés or starter.

Nutritional Profile (based on 100g of snail flesh/meat) 
Calorie - 105.1kcal
Protein - 20.5g
Carbohydrate  - 0g
Fat - 1.3g
Fibre - 3.8g

Vitamins: A, B6, B12, K and folate.

Minerals: High levels of Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium. Also contains significant levels of Iron. Other minerals include Manganese, Copper, Sulphur and Sodium

A Healthy Source of Food?
Snail meat has very high levels of protein, higher, in fact, than beef, chicken or rabbit according to research. It is also low in fat (containing mainly polyunsaturated fatty acid) compared to these other meats and has negligible amount of cholesterol.

Snail meat contains the amino acids arginine and lysine at higher levels than in whole eggs! It also contains healthy essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids, required for normal tissue development and maintenance. The high-protein, low-fat content of snail meat makes it a healthy alternative food/meat compared with chicken, beef and rabbit meat.

According to another report, the significantly high levels of iron in snail meat  is believed, contributes to the fight against iron deficiency anaemia," (Nutritional benefits of the African Giant Snail - read it here...http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd23/3/mali23060.htm)

Other uses
Giant African Snail
(pic courtesy - flickr.com)
Largely in some parts of the world, snails are regarded as pests which can cause serious damage to agricultural produce, so, in these areas, great efforts are made to get rid of them and keep them under control. In other parts of the world (example Japan) snail slime is used in facial treatment to erase wrinkles!

The slime has a powerful mix of antioxidants, hyaluronic acid and proteins, all of which help the skin to retain moisture, soothe any inflammations and even act as an exfoliant for dead skin cells. Specially bred snails are used in this treatment.

This slime is also extracted and made into a cosmetic gel /cream which is applied to the face as a moisturiser.

In addition, snail slime contains unusual crystals of the commonly-occurring mineral, calcite which is being researched in the treatment of bone fractures and hip replacements.

Risks
Eating raw snails may pose the risk of ingesting a parasite which may cause meningitis-like symptoms, so they must be well bred and prepared before used for food. Touching or handling live snails do not pose this risk though. Simply follow regular hygiene precautions of washing hands, after handling them.

Read my post on prepping and cooking snails in my African Snail Sauté recipe.


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