In the Caribbean region, since long before the arrival of the first man, a large beautiful mollusk has existed which is known by numerous names. In Mexico it is called caracol rosa, but in pre-Hispanic Mexico the Aztecs knew it as teccizmama. In Venezuela, it's called botuto, in Panama cambombia, in Costa Rica cambute, in Honduras caracol gigante, in Columbia caracol pala, in Nicaragua caracol, in Puerto Rico carrucho, and in Cuba cobo. In Florida, the Bahamas and all other English speaking countries, it's known as Queen conch. In French, it's called conque, but in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti and Saint-Domingue, everyone thinks of it as lambi, a name dating far back to the time when the Lesser Antilles were inhabited by Indian peoples from South America. All these traditional designations, differing by country, are popular or vernacular names.
Biologists call the conch Strombus gigas; this is its scientific name which makes it identifiable to biologists from the world over, no matter what language they speak. With its very large spiral shell, it's classified as an ocean mollusk of the gastropod order.
During the days of slavery, the conch provided a means of communication from one hill to another to announce life's big events: birth, marriage and death, not to mention revolts. Its deafening sound announced the departure and arrival of fishing canoes and provided the signal to begin the yam harvest. It served as radio, telephone and musical instrument. Unfortunately the art of producing these sounds that could be heard for miles around is becoming something of a lost art. The most beautiful shells were reserved for decorating the graves of fishermen. Others were used to construct sea walls, and there are still some lime kilns that bear witness to the conch shell's industrial use. It was part of everyday life, of festivals and days of mourning.
Today the conch shell with its iridescent pink nacre has become a souvenir taken home by tourists, but it retains its role in traditional festivals, a reminder of its special place in the life of the islands.
Conch is collected by divers from sea grass beds 12 or more meters deep. Its firm white, pink-fringed meat is a muscle about 6 cm in diameter. As with octopus, once the conch is brought back to land, it is beaten on a rock to tenderize it. The tenderness of the meat is directly related to the energy put into this beating; without this step, conch is rubbery and unpleasant to eat.
Nutritional values per 100 g
- Calories: 98
- Carbohydrates: 3.4 g
- Fat: 0.5 g
- Protein: 19 g
Conch is a specialty of Creole cooking, most often prepared stewed, fried, grilled or in broth. Though the preparation process is a bit tricky, the meat can be truly delicious when prepared by an expert hand. Until fairly recently, conch stew made with coconut milk, local fruits and vegetables was the main source of protein and the daily fare of many island dwellers.
In many countries, it is prepared as ceviche: raw conch marinated in lime juice as in Mexico, though others prefer it on skewers, accompanied by a spicy chili sauce and rice and beans. Today in Guadeloupe, they even make conch sausage and chicken stuffed with conch!
In the Bahamas, where seafood is a staple of the diet, fresh uncooked conch is delicious: the meat is scored with a knife, and lime juice and spices are sprinkled over it. It can also be deep-fried (called "cracked conch"), steamed, added to soups, salads and stews or made into conch chowder and conch fritters.
Thanks to the Laboratorio de Biologia y Cultivo de Moluscos, Centro de Investigacion y de Estudios Avanzados CINVESTAV-IPN and the Centre de Culture Scientifique Technique et Industrielle de Guadeloupe (CCSTI) for their kind collaboration.
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