See also: Escargot; Conch; Abalone
Snails belong to a large group of shelled Gastropod mollusks. There are land varieties of snails as well as both fresh water and marine snails. Helix pomatia is the land snail familiar in French cooking. Abalone, Periwinkles and Conch are edible marine snails.
According to the June 1909 issue of Scientific American, the consumption of Snails in Paris, France during the winter of 1900 amounted to about 800 tons.
From Scientific American, July 1911:
“Snails are now being sold in Paris, the only genuine part of which are the shells. It is said that the imitation of the real article is so close that many epicures have a high opinion of the sham product. Snail-shells, it seems, are brought from the dustmen and rag-pickers, and after being cleaned are filled with 'lights' or cats' meat, the soft flesh being cut into corkscrew form, so as to fit the shell, by a skillfully designed machine. The receptacle is then sealed with liquid fat, and the escargot is ready for the consumer. The secret came out during a lawsuit brought by a man employed at the snail-factory to recover damages for a finger mutilated by one of the machines.”
The French consume 40,000 metric tons of snails each year. (2009)
A muricid snail can drill through an oyster shell, insert its proboscis and use the teeth at the tip to rasp up the oyster's flesh.
Snails have been eaten as food since at least ancient Roman times. Apicius, the author of the oldest surviving cookbook (1st century B.C - 2 century A.D.) has a recipe for snails in his cookbook.
Restaurants serve about 1 billion snails annually.
Heliculture is the science of growing snails for food.