Politismos eMagazine | Healthy Food of Greece: Cretan Kohli

The unique foods of Greece and their health benefits: Cretan Kohli (Snails)

Since ancient times, the Greeks realized how precious the gifts of Mother Nature were. Over the years, Greeks have come to discover the properties of these special herbs and foods… This month, we take you on a journey to the island of Crete to sample Kohli – Cretan snails.  Join us as we explore the essentials of Greek foods!


In this month’s “Unique Foods of Greece” feature we take you on a journey to the island of Crete. Blessed by the Gods, Crete is home to unique foods, herbs and delicacies. Such a delicacy is boiled snails (kohli bourbouristi).  It is the ultimate summer food of Cretan cuisine packed with flavor and nutrients!

A 2,000 year-old statement by the Greek medical author Galen that “All Greeks eat snails every day” along with Hippocrates’ recognition of the medicinal properties of snails, comes to prove a long presence on Greek diet and a high significance. Moreover, the fact that excavations in various settlements of the Minoan land brought to light cooked snail shells indicates how the delicacy is linked to Cretan culture.

In Crete, particularly, due to the geomorphic structure of the land and the fact that many villages are situated in mountainous regions, kohli have been a staple for millennia. Since ancient times, inhabitants of mountainous villages would hunt, boil and then serve kohli with the meal of the day; this would be an inexpensive way to intake protein and gain energy. A habit rather successful, as snails and virgin olive oil are thought to be the Cretans’ secret to longevity.

Until recent years, kohli could only be found in the wild; during the month of March, after the first rainfalls, snails cover the mountainsides. It is then when local people gather them, keep them in a basket for some days and clean them thoroughly before consumption.  As this dish is seasonal, people have developed farms that simulate environmental conditions in order to grow snails all year long now!


From Greek kohli bourbouristi (Cretan idiom; bourbour = lie down) to the French escargot, snails are indubitably a world renowned delicacy. However, after a look at their properties, we can see how snail consumption combines pleasure with health benefits!

Since antiquity, Galen and Hippocrates considered snails potent to protect against dropsy and hernia, while Gaius Plinius indicated that they could relieve stomach ulcers and cease hemorrhage. In the Middle Ages, snails were used to treat diseases such as bronchitis, tuberculosis, wounds and scurvy.

Kohli have a low fat content which helps protect against diseases of the liver, arteriosclerosis, obesity and contributes to proper functioning of the thyroid and immune system. Snails are also rich in fatty acids, calcium and selenium which has antioxidant properties and helps strengthen the immune system.

They are also a good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sodium, amino acids, and vitamins. Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin B complex with a beneficial effect on the nervous and cardiovascular system.

The snail slime consists of collagen, elastin, glycolic acid, water and a peptide complex which promote hydration, skin elasticity and cell regeneration. Due to the benefits of snail slime, snails are not only used in gastronomy but are also broadly used in cosmetology and dermatology.


The nutritional value of snails is 60-90 calories per 100g (0, 03 oz.), 16, 1% protein and 1, 4% fat. Their selenium content effectively provides consumers with 50% of the daily-recommended intake. The easiest way to consume snails is to rinse them thoroughly, put them in a pan, sprinkle a generous amount of salt and cook them in medium heat. Although preparation process is simple, their taste is heavenly. They make an ideal delicacy, meze, which goes well with a sip of ouzo or tsipouro.


Snail consumption has been a popular culinary habit for ages. In Greece, it seems that Cretans were the first to find out about the health benefits of kohli; a fact that played an important role to their longevity.

According to research published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health snails are a significant source of protein and iron, which contributes to fighting against iron deficiency and anemia.

Moreover, the US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health has a published an article about the medical use of snails. As stated in the article “Ziconotide (SNXIII), a synthetic peptide coming from snail venom, has been under FDA review since 1999. Pre-clinical and clinical studies of this new drug are promising.”

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17 Jun 2017, by Erriketi Chini in Gastronomyx