Snail meat has been consumed by humans worldwide since prehistoric times. It is high in protein (12-16%) and iron (45-50 mg/kg), low in fat, and contains almost all the amino acids needed by humans. A recent study has also shown that the glandular substances in edible snail meat cause agglutination of certain bacteria, which could be of value in fighting a variety of ailments, including whooping cough.
Edible snails also play an important role in folk medicine. In Ghana, the bluish liquid obtained from the shell when the meat has been removed is believed to be good for infant development. The high iron content of the meat is considered important in treating anaemia. In the past, it was recommended for combating ulcers and asthma. At the
Imperial Court in Rome, snail meat was thought to contain aphrodisiac properties and was often served to visiting 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 snails is flourishing in Europe and North America. However, in spite of the considerable foreign and local demand, commercial snail farms such as those in Europe, South-East Asia and the Americas hardly exist in Africa. In Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire, where snail meat is particularly popular, snails are gathered from the forest during the wet season.
In recent years, however, wild snail populations have declined considerably, primarily because of the impact of such human activities as deforestation, pesticide use, slash-and-burn agriculture, spontaneous bush fires, and the collection of immature snails. It is therefore important to encourage snail farming (Heliculture) in order to conserve this important resource.