Friday, February 4, 2011

Goat snails

Goat Snail (Cantareus apertus)
Ask any Maltese who collects snails for cooking about which species of snail can be eaten and the answer is always that only one snail, the edible snail, can be eaten. 

All other species are inedible because they have a bitter taste. The edible snail is listed in books as għakrux raġel but most people refer to it as bebbuxu tal-ikel

In Gozo a ninety four year old man informed me that in the past Gozitans ate the red banded snail which is known in Maltese as għakrux mara. He said that there was nothing wrong with the taste of this snail but it was not easy to extract the snail from the shell as when it was cooked it remained deep inside the shell and one had to gently break the shell and wash away the shell fragments. 

This required a lot of time and patience so snail collectors have learnt that this species of snail is inedible but do not known the reason why.

These same people insist that the worst tasting snail is the goat snail which is known in Maltese as mogħża or sometimes bebbuxu iswed because of its very dark flesh. All those I asked said that it has a very bad taste but none had ever tried eating it. 

But in southern Italy the goat snail is cooked regularly. 

The people of Salento prepare the municeddhi cu lla panna which they proudly claim to be a specialty of the area. They collect the snails when they have the white seal known as operculum. This is a hard substance which many snails produce to seal themselves within the shell so as to avoid desiccation during dry periods. These people claim that this snail has a more delicate taste and is less bitter than the edible snail. 

It is so popular that it can be found for sale in open air markets and traditional fruit and vegetable vendors. It might be that the people of Salento have learnt to collect these snails when they do not have any bitter taste while the Maltese never learnt this.

The goat snail is a common species in the Maltese countryside. It is found in Mediterranean countries in garigue and steppe habitats especially near cultivated fields in areas where its favorite food plant, the squill, grows in abundance. It is seen in the rainy season and quickly disappears when it is not raining. It has been introduced in Australia and America where it has become a pest. 

This article was published in The Times on 02.02.11

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