In the world of fine cuisine, there’s always something novel that comes out of left field.
For some, caviar and roe are already beyond the realm of normalcy, while others see escargot as out of the ordinary as well. These fancy foods are not for your everyday picky eaters, that’s for sure!
However, even some of the more adventurous diners are unfamiliar with snail caviar. This is a product that stands on its own in terms of obscurity, exclusivity, and luxury.
Snail caviar is among the most sought-after ingredients on the planet, and therefore one of the priciest. It’s known for its distinctive appearance and delicious texture and taste.
If you’ve never before heard of snail caviar, we’re here to give you all the facts you need to know, starting now.
What is Snail Caviar?
Snail caviar is just about what you’d expect – the lightly cured (salted) roe of a snail, specifically the Petit Gris Snail native to Southern Europe and North Africa.
Here is some key info on how snail caviar is cultivated, procured, and packaged for consumption.
While you might be able to find a spoonful of snail caviar in a temperate field or swamp in the south of France, you’d mostly be wasting your time by foraging for this delicacy.
Snail farming – also known as heliciculture – is a much better use of resources, and these methods have been explored and refined for centuries to yield high quantities of snail caviar and specimens suitable for escargot.
Since snails are hermaphroditic, meaning both males and females can lay eggs, there is no need to separate genders on a snail farm to yield caviar.
However, conditions must be highly controlled (temperature, lighting, climate, etc.) to collect snail caviar in any meaningful quantities.
Snails lay eggs once a month, although very few valid eggs are produced at a given time. Furthermore, these eggs are buried at a depth of two to four inches beneath the dirt or mud, making them difficult to detect and obtain.
In most cases, the eggs are washed away by rain or devoured up by predators in the ground. This adds yet another layer of difficulty to the harvest process, especially during seasons of inclement weather.
Consider this: while one sturgeon may carry up to 40 pounds of eggs at a time, a single snail will only lay around four grams of eggs each year. Low yields and high demand = even higher prices!
You now have an idea of why snail caviar is one of the more challenging ingredients to obtain from the natural world, with so many variables and threats facing these small batches of eggs.
However, when a sufficient number of eggs are gathered, producers follow a similar method to the sturgeon caviar we know and love.
The eggs are sorted and washed (very delicately), all impurities are removed, and then salted with a minimal amount of salt to preserve the product and add a hint of flavor.
Just like sturgeon caviar or any other type of roe, fresh is better. Standard snail caviar can last for a few months in the refrigerator with the seal unbroken, but after opening, it should be enjoyed within a few days.
More commonly, snail caviar undergoes a process of pasteurization to extend the shelf life and make the product more profitable for the producers. Connoisseurs will argue, however, that pasteurized caviar of any kind is inferior to fresh, and we can’t help but agree.
The final method of snail caviar production is unique to this ingredient, known as De Jaeger snail caviar.
This involves a delicate balance of sea salt, rosemary, citric acid, and a pinch of starch that preserves the eggs for longer (up to three months after opening) without sacrificing taste or texture. Expect to pay more for De Jaeger, but experience a finer product overall.
We can see that snail caviar has an aura of intrigue, but how much can you expect to pay for a bite?
According to current market prices, a kilogram of top-quality snail caviar will run you anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 a kilogram. You likely won’t be needing that much, but this equates to over $100 for just a few scoops – the typical caviar serving size.
Snail caviar remains in high demand, so don’t expect it to go on sale anytime soon!
What Makes Snail Caviar Special?
It’s not just the exclusivity factor that makes snail caviar so desirable, although that does play a role. Snail caviar also has exquisite characteristics on the palate and is pleasing to the eye.
Here is more info on why snail caviar is so widely desired.
If you’re familiar with sturgeon caviar or standard fish roe, you’ll know that the colors of the eggs range broadly from dark, jet black to dull copper and bronze, all the way to different shades of jade, green, and grey. Salmon and trout roe are typically bright orange, as are the crunchy pearls of tobiko (the famous sushi garnish).
Snail caviar, on the other hand, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, with bright, pearly white spheres that have a slightly transparent appearance. They are roughly half the size of salmon roe - smaller than most caviar beads.
Depending on the lighting and the quality of the product, some snail caviar also has a slightly rosy or pinkish hue, making it even more intriguing.
Since snail caviar comes from land animals rather than creatures of the sea, it has none of the oceanic brine or “fishy” flavor that you might expect from sturgeon caviar or other types of fish roe.
Critics point out notes of earth, moss, and wood, with vegetal and herbaceous flavors throughout. Some note similarities to carrot, asparagus, and even brussels sprouts. Trust us – it’s better than we make it sound!
The texture of snail caviar is notoriously resilient on the exterior, making for an exquisite “pop” sensation on the palate.
The eggs have a high-fat content, creating a lovely palate-coating effect after the initial burst.
Because of these unique properties, snail caviar is often compared in texture to the finest Beluga and Royal Ossetra sturgeon caviar in the world.
How To Find Snail Caviar
So you want some snail caviar for yourself – you’re not alone! Here’s how to find it and some things to keep in mind.
Online and In Stores
Some top-tier specialty grocers may carry snail caviar now and then, but we suggest shopping online to get the freshest product for the best price. Make sure you read up on the details of the product, compare prices, and ensure you’re getting the best snail caviar for your money.
If you don’t want to search endlessly for a jar of real snail caviar, you may have better luck at a fine dining establishment in your city. Be ready to shell out some cash for a Michelin Star experience! In our opinion, it’s well worth it.
The Best Sturgeon Caviar
Perhaps you aren’t ready to dive into snail caviar quite yet – we understand. Start with some quality sturgeon caviar from a reputable online vendor and enjoy the best that the sea has to offer.
A Delicious Conclusion
Snail caviar is truly unique in every way, from production to appearance, texture, and taste. If you can find some for yourself, be sure to savor every bite!