The Nagas consume river snails which are cooked with daal and sucked. They are purchased by the kilogram from the Dimapur bazaar.

Manipuri cuisine also includes river (fresh water) snails. Their “faces” are individually scooped out and discarded. This is followed by cutting off their tapering ends on the third ridge or band so their meat can be sucked out easily. Then to kill them they are placed in a pot, a large quantity of salt is dumped on them and water is poured so they get submerged in the solution. After some time they are thoroughly rinsed, only after which they are said to be clean enough or ready for cooking.

The Giant African Snails came to India during British times by hitching rides on trade ships from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, etc. These molluscs eat all kinds of crops and plants and even construction materials such as paint and stucco. They are seen spreading in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and in certain parts of Karnataka and by 2022 in Maharashtra. With no natural predators the snails have become highly invasive and an agricultural pest that destroy whole farms. They are hermaphrodites, live for 5-7 years and begin laying eggs within a year – each snail can lay over 500-900 eggs twice a year.

In 2016 Keralites began eating Giant African Snails in order to control their menace on crops in the state and bring down their numbers even though they are used as feed for ducks. Since 2018 this “delicacy” has been sold at fish markets in Tamil Nadu too. Apart from the ethical standpoint, humans should not be eating these snails because they carry Angiostrongylus cantonensis or rat lung worm, a parasite which cause meningitis in humans.

The Central Inland Capture Fisheries Research Institute was the first to see nothing wrong in breeding Giant African Snails (an invasive species in India) so that they can be converted into “gastronomic delights”. This is another form of exploitation ending in two thousand snails being packed into a one square metre tray without any nourishment for two to three days for their final journey to the place where they are to be killed for food.

Escargot (pronounced es-ka-go) is French for edible snails and is one of the highlights of French gastronomy imported into India. The snails are “hygienically grown” being fed on a special diet of ground cereal, then “cleaned and gutted and made ready for cooking” in garlic butter with parsley and wine or cognac. Escargot caviar or pearls of Aphrodite consists of processed (pasteurised to preserve) eggs of land snails.

Snail Slime

In fact, heliciculture or land snail breeding has for centuries been producing escargots and escargot-pearls (snail eggs, a type of caviar) popularly eaten in France. But a high demand for snail slime used as an ingredient in cosmetics has resulted in a 325% rise in production of snails in Italy alone where 44,000 tons of snails are bred annually.

In the 1980s some Chileans who sold snails to the French discovered the so-called benefits of snail slime, but Korea was responsible for introducing beauty products containing it. Snails are specially bred for the purpose in Korean farms. Fast-rising sales of products made from snail slime indicate women do not mind applying this obnoxious animal substance on their faces thinking it will improve their skin. Yuck!

The School of Mechanical Engineering, Sungkyunkwan University, Suwon, South Korea, and the Department of Physics & Astronomy College of Science, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, participated in a study carried out on a species of terrestrial snails called Achatina fulica, that is an agricultural pest in Kerala and found that snail mucus is a mixture of glycoproteins, hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid, all of which have long-documented benefits for the skin.

Snail slime, an unpleasant, slippery and thick semi-solid substance processed and packaged as creams, gels and serums by some foreign cosmetic companies is very much in demand. Snail mucin as it is called, claims to help recovery and regeneration of skin. Then there’s snail-based eye cream, toner and moisturiser, even a premium snail gel face mask.

The production of slime or mucus trails in snails facilitates locomotion and trail-following is important for mate-searching. If snails move over previously laid trails, they can save their own energy.

The traditional way to force snails to secrete their slime is by immersing them in water containing salt, vinegar and chemicals. The modern method is to immerse them in a special steam bath called Muller One which extracts the slime with water that contains ozone which kills bacteria.

Normal slime is viscous and sticky, but if the snails are forced to secrete a discharge it is clear and foamy making it ineffective by self-certified manufacturing standards! Companies that market snail slime products are therefore said to be conning thousands of ladies. Meanwhile, dermatologists do not agree that creams made from snail slime (however derived) iron out wrinkles.

However in September 2021 the Nature Journal published that a group of researchers from the Shiv Chhatrapati College, Junnar, in collaboration with the Department of Technology at the Savitribai Phule Pune University and the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology had found that the sticky mucus secreted by snails was a novel biomaterial for synthesis of silver nanoparticles that were found to be effective for fungal infection, anti-microbial activity in human body and to avoid injury scars. They saw nothing wrong at all in exploiting snails to obtain their secretions and expressed the possibility of a topical cream/gel for acne treatment as well as for rapid wound healing; and would be extended to the formulation of an anti-cancer cream.

Lime or Choona

The shells of molluscs and particularly snails collected from the sea by local persons off the coasts of particularly Kerala and Odissa are used for the production of lime or choona utilised in umpteen applications including food in India.

For detailed information on Lime or Choona please read

Snails not spared by Scientists

A cruel experiment to transfer memories from one living being to another was undertaken by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles. They transferred molecules from brain cells of trained snails to untrained ones to prove that they could remember the experiences of the trained ones.

They extracted all the RNA from the brain cells of the trained snails and injected it into the untrained snails. Next they took the brain cells of both the trained and untrained snails and grew them in the lab. They bathed the untrained neurons in RNA from the trained cells, then gave them a shock and saw that they fired in the same way that trained neurons did.

Gene editing or Crispr has been (mis)used on poor snails in Japan to meaninglessly figure out why some snails’ shells are left-coiled.

Closer home, in April 2019 the Savitribai Phule Pune University and Shivaji University stated that research had been conducted to turn agri-waste to bio-fuel using bacteria extracted from pests – the giant snail and cotton bollworm.

Page last updated on 14/05/24