Snail caviar comes in different flavours – Marly Kanacher, Barcelona Pearls
Marly Kanacher has an unusual business – snail caviar. Snail breeding is a a real challenge. Her business is named Barcelona Pearls – a perfect match for what Marly is producing. Read more about her passion about snails and how delicious dishes with snail caviar are created.
Hi Marly! Snail caviar – an unusual business. How did you come up with this idea? And how did you get started?
Quite an unusual business indeed! When I first heard about the snail caviar I put the same face of surprise that people make when they ask me what I do professionally.
Upon hearing about this product, I decided to find out more about it. About snail breeding I could find some information, I say ‘some’ because the snail is one of the least scientifically studied species for which existing literature is scarce. The information about farming available was basically the sum and experience of some breeders put onto paper.
On the subject of caviar, I found even less information that was serious enough for what I knew would be a real challenge. However, challenges are like fuel for my engines, but at the same time I was quite realistic and knew I had a long way to go and the best mental attitude I should have would be: learning by doing.
As I did not have a greenhouse or a place to start to learn in a practical way about its captivity, I went to the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and with the help of Cesar Ornat, Vice Dean of the faculty of agriculture and nano technology, we did studies on the biological cycle of the snail and the ideal conditions for its captivity. Amazing time that was, then is when my real learning curve started.
Where do your passion and sympathy for snails come from?
They are adorable animals, they are curious and love to explore the world. Since they have limited vision, they explore it with their tentacles, which is very fun to watch. In the blink of an eye, that “so slow animal” disappears from where it was last seen and is happy elsewhere doing his thing.
But it is their reproduction that is really fascinating. They are hermaphroditic (they possess both genitalia) but still need another one to get fertilized. In theory snails are ready to lay their eggs 2 weeks after mating, but nature has provided them with the ability to hold their fertilized eggs for up to a year if they don’t feel safe and that the surrounding conditions are not ideal. So only the snail is the one who will decide when to lay them! That is the reason why in the farm we pamper them so much.
When they feel the environment is the correct one, a snail will look for a soft and humid soil, start digging a tunnel (about 5 cm deep) and will go inside. When inside they will start to release the eggs one by one (10-15 minutes apart). After finishing with about 100+ eggs, they will go up the tunnel and at the same time covering it up with soil. The process from starting to dig the tunnel, up to leaving it completely covered with the nest inside, can take up to 48 hours.
Eggs in all species are a miracle of nature but to know and understand what it takes for a snail and for a farmer to achieve it all, is what makes me feel respect for each little nest I get, they feel like presents to me. That respect and pride feeling remains throughout the collection of eggs and producing of the caviar until I see the amazed faces of clients when they enjoy it.
Cultivating snails must be a big challenge. What should be considered?
As I explained before, snails are extremely difficult to keep and raise in captivity. The mortality rate can be still extremely high even in a well-managed farm. They get easily stressed, by even the weakest blow of air. Food is another important factor, not only the quality but the quantity. They love eating, but like humans, if we don’t combine the right amount and type of food with exercise we become couch potatoes. The last thing one wants to have is a couch potato snail farm. Therefore, feeding times and activity periods (snails are nocturnal animals) have to be quite precise. Amount of light, humidity and temperature are aspects one needs to monitor on a constant basis.
Their health and well-being in a farm depend entirely on the farmer, so cleaning and looking after each snail is a permanent job 7 days a week. As I mentioned before, because of the lack of scientific studies, there is no development in terms of pharmaceutical products for them so keeping hygienic standards is a must in this case. On the other hand, it is good this way, because here we have a real case of a product for human consumption free from any kind of chemicals.
How can I imagine a life cycle of a snail? What does their egg production look like?
During winter, snails bury themselves in soil, where they hibernate and live off only their own energy and fat reserves. Coming spring, as temperature rises, the first thing they do after they pop up is eating and hydrating to recuperate the energy and weight they lost during hibernation. This recuperation from hibernation can take several weeks. When they feel fine again, the next thing they do is look for a partner.
After mating for 48 hours, a quite tiring process, they will wait at least 2 weeks to lay those eggs in humid soil and within two weeks of being in the soil, you will have baby snails.
To produce caviar, the eggs are not allowed to stay in the soil for too long, so when the snail leaves the nest, we collect those eggs immediately. Those eggs are then inspected and filtered to have the correct size shape and colour. Not all the eggs can be used for caviar purposes since nature is not perfect and so too are the eggs. Therefore around 50% of the eggs are discarded.
What do you love most about your product? What about it makes you proud?
I love it because I get to work with a miracle of nature, the egg. More so, I am proud to be able to convert this beautiful miracle into a new and captivating natural product, which nowadays has become very hard to find in the food industry as a whole.
How do you meet your own high standards of quality and taste? What guarantees your snail caviar to be a premium product worth its price?
Through the other questions I answered one can see in this specific case, how important it is to do things right, from the beginning. It is true that I sell caviar but that caviar is a result of parents which have to be in perfect conditions first, in order to give me their precious eggs. A further selection piece by piece is required because I look for the perfect size, shape and even colour.
Up to that point one manages to have a perfect raw material but not caviar. The next key is to carefully cure those perfect elements resulting in perfectly balanced product. The harmony of each recipe is what makes the product so unique with an ideal match to other ingredients to be combined with. All these steps can be only achieved by keeping consistency throughout the entire process, starting in the farm.
For me the other important criteria was to be able to deliver my caviar the year around. Pasteurizing the product was no option, though shelf life would be extended, flavours, textures and appearances would have been diminished. Using frozen products would not only fool clients but again destroy the delicacy of the caviar. So the starting criteria was to design the farm from the beginning to the end to be able to produce throughout the entire year, allowing my clients to enjoy a fresh product whenever they like.
What flavour does snail caviar have? Is it similar to fish caviar?
The about only aspect that is similar to fish caviar is the fact that they are also eggs, but the colour is already different, snail caviar is white. Some aspects of the craftsmanship are similar but the result is very different. Fish caviar often has an overly salty impact, whereas snail caviar has very mild salty effect. Fish caviar will always leave a seawater aftertaste, whereas snail caviar instead leaves a forest aftertaste.
There are already four different varieties in your portfolio – Original, Fine Herbs, Oil and Sweet Vanilla. Could you tell us some more about these sorts? Which one is your favourite?
Once I finished with the original product I was amazed with the possibilities that the product could offer to professionals because it could trigger their creativity. I went a little bit further and created Herbs to be used in combination with Salmon and Prawns. So, that became my favourite at that point in time.
Then when I started thinking about combining it with beef and chicken, I created the Oil version which tasted amazing. The last addition was the Sweet Vanilla which could be combined with fruits, chocolates, cakes and other deserts in general, giving them a vanilla overtone, enriching the whole experience. Again, I was amazed with that result. Now I have no favourite flavour, given it is dependent on what foods I want to combine it with at a particular time.
Are there any ideas for some new variety? How does the process of creating a new variety look like?
Yes, the agenda is full of new ideas which have to be developed. Developing a single new recipe can take up to 8 or 9 months as it requires many hours of trial and error lab experimentation and work. On the culinary side it also takes time to figure out the different applications that the product could have in terms of food combinations it can work with. There is where I work closely with my culinary advisor Kim Casado, to get the best of both expertise’, my knowledge of the egg and his amazing creativity and culinary experience.
Snail caviar is a unique product for sure. Could you share with us some recipes with snail caviar?
Sure, on the website you can find a whole range of recipes that I used with the different products which have been designed to be used at home by non-professionals.
We always love to see such local, artisan and handmade producers such as yourself. Local and seasonal are becoming increasingly important topics for chefs all over the world. Do you have any local cooperation with a restaurant or a chef?
From September onwards, our product is going to be presented by several restaurants which are at the moment developing the dishes on which my caviar will be used. That information will be available on my website from then on.
Why do you think top chefs can rely on your products?
Because they are new and unique natural products. Chefs are always looking for new dishes and ingredients to captivate and entertain their clients palates, always exciting them to come back again as the chefs will always have something new to provide for them. My snail caviar can provide chefs with the new and natural experience that they need, to enhance their dishes to further satisfy and bring in returning clients.
Thank you very much, Marly!