In Western Europe, where the tradition originates, snails are eaten as a starter before the main meal. This gourmet food is distinguished by its culinary qualities and has a very few alternatives. In French homes the snail eating traditions has long been established – the combination with butter, garlic and herbs is much appreciated.
European gourmet consumers have a priority for fresh snails as opposed to shelled and processed produce, therefore, fresh produce forms a largest part of the market. As a rule, the larger the snails – the more demanded. The snails are distributed live, frozen, canned or freshly prepared in their own shell, usually with butter and herbs. In the recent years a new kind of snail products has found its way to the gourmet plates. Snail eggs, a new gourmet scream, is sometimes also called snail caviar. This culinary phenomenon has attracted a lot of attention because of its taste, texture, appearance and is often incorporated into various dishes. Every year the demand for the snail caviar is growing rapidly and the prices can be compared to sturgeon caviar.
Global snail market
According to statistics, in 2007, 420 000 tons of snails have been consumed. In France alone, 40 000 tons of snail meat is eaten annually, from which a vast majority is imported produce. Spain, Portugal and Italy are not much behind France and it was calculated that in Italy, more than 300 million individual snails are eaten each year. That is why heliculture seems as an attractive farming alternative for those who seek to start their own green business.
Helix aspersa (garden snail) is a species originating from the shores of Mediterranean Sea. This adaptive mollusc has an ability to adjust to various climatic conditions making it a choice species for snail farming. Growing helix aspersa is a lot less risky than its more sensitive relatives. This species is much fond of in the cuisine of Western Europe, where it is served in high class restaurants in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and other countries. These snails are also gaining more popularity in Russia, Japan, USA, Canada and West Africa countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and others. However, the snails are most popular in the western part of Europe, where they are most commonly known as Escargots.
Helix aspersa species has gained popularity among snail farmers and consumers because of its adaptability for growing conditions, visual and taste characteristics. It is known that 50% of snail meat eaten worldwide and 80% of all famed snails are helix aspersa and its varieties.
Heliciculture – an environmentally friendly business
The vast majority – 80% or more of the total amount of snails eaten are collected in the nature, whereas in the countries with a weaker economy (Easters Europe, Turkey, etc.) it can be a way to make a living. From the ecological standpoint it cannot be tolerated, because of this practice natural ecosystems are endangered in one way or the other. From the consumer point of view it is also unacceptable, because it is nearly impossible to track where the product originates from. Where were the snails collected? Sometimes even the species are unknown.
Despite the growing popularity, heliciculture still cannot provide sufficient quantities of snails and the European snail market is still heavily dependent on non-European providers. That is why newly established farmers can always find a niche in the market, because high quality produce, effective and constant provision is much appreciated.
Import from the outside of the EU is more or less stable or even slowly decreasing, due to the fact that heliculture is becoming more popular. Modern, effective and environmentally friendly snail farming methods help to decrease the ecological pressure on the snail species living in the natural environment. What is more, the snail populations that have suffered, because of their excessive collection for food, have a chance to regenerate. That is why we believe that heliciculture should be encouraged. It is known that some snail species had to be protected by banning their collection and use as a food in some countries. For example, Helix pomatia species have been protected in Germany and Denmark.
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