Snail meat has been consumedby humans worldwide since prehistoric times. It is high in protein (12-16%) andiron (45-50 mg/kg), low in fat, and contains almost all the amino acids neededby humans. A recent study has also shown that the glandular substances inedible snail meat cause agglutination of certain bacteria, which could be ofvalue in fighting a variety of ailments, including whooping cough.
Edible snails also play animportant role in folk medicine. In Ghana, the bluish liquid obtained from theshell when the meat has been removed is believed to be good for infantdevelopment. The high iron content of the meat is considered important intreating anaemia. In the past, it was recommended for combating ulcers andasthma. At the
Imperial Court in Rome, snailmeat was thought to contain aphrodisiac properties and was often served tovisiting dignitaries in the late evening.
In West Africa, snail meat has traditionally been a major ingredient in the diet of people living in the high forest belt (the forested area other than the savannah forest). In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, an estimated 7.9 million kg are eaten annually. In Ghana it is clear that demand currently outstrips supply.
International trade in snailsis flourishing in Europe and North America. However, in spite of theconsiderable foreign and local demand, commercial snail farms such as those inEurope, South-East Asia and the Americas hardly exist in Africa. In Ghana,Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, where snail meat is particularly popular, snails aregathered from the forest during the wet season.
In recent years, however, wildsnail populations have declined considerably, primarily because of the impactof such human activities as deforestation, pesticide use, slash-and-burnagriculture, spontaneous bush fires, and the collection of immature snails. Itis therefore important to encourage snail farming (Heliculture) in order toconserve this important resource.