To most people the thought of eating snails either churns the stomach, or brings to mind fancy restaurants with overpriced and undersized portions. And while we all know about the reputation Escargot has for being a high class delicacy, human kind’s “dalliance” with terrestrial gastropod molluscs has been going on for much longer than you might think.
There are documented recipes from ancient Rome dated back to the 1st century and compiled into a recipe book sometime around the 4th or 5th century (Apicius: De Re Coquinaria). But we now know that our history with the slimy critters goes back even further than that.
In a study conducted on the east coast of Spain, published in mid-2014, scientists and archaeologist’s uncovered evidence that strongly suggests that mankind has been collecting, cooking and eating snails for around 30,000 years. During the excavation, the scientists found numerous shell as well as what is believed to be a purpose built fire pit for cooking the snails.
The discovery, made at the Cova de la Barriada dig site also contained remains from other animals (assumed to be used as food) as well as some early tools; all of which has helped scientists to date the findings to the beginning of the upper Palaeolithic period – Between 10 and 40 thousand years ago.
Further analysis of the shells, animal remains and fire pit remnants allowed scientists to determine how old the snails were at time of death (most were 55 weeks). And while the French may cook their booger bugs with butter and garlic, Palaeolithic Homonins cooked their snails using pine embers and juniper at temperatures below 375°C.
The act of farming snails for food is called heliciculture, and while it is possible to do at home with garden snails, caution should be used before starting. Snails carry bacteria in their shell as well as internally, so snails need to properly have their digestive track purged and shell cleaned before being fit for human consumption. Or there’s erring on the side of caution and letting the more iron stomached foodies live on the edge for you.