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Southafricanisms: Perlemoen all’snot gold.

The Perlemoen is a large ear-shaped mollusc that grows in the shallow coastal waters of South Africa (and elsewhere also, but that doesn’t matter). It is a vegetarian, like most snails I hope and feeds on seaweed by trapping strands under its shell.

Apart from it’s sumptuous flesh, which is accredited with the usual aphrodisiacal properties, it’s hardened shell is of special interest. Consisting of microscopic (smaller than a microscope) tiles of calcium carbonate, which are vertically glued with protein. It’s structure capable of absorbing massive blows, without cracking. They are studying this vertical tiled effect in research into body armour no less.


Perlemoen, much like Crayfish is a traditional delicacy here, and highly sought after in the far east, making is a very expensive snail indeed. Since 1990 it has been the unwitting victim of international crime syndicates, who have funded lavish lifestyles through its export. Every week or so, news is reported of 1000’s of kilo’s of perlemoen with street values rivalling the largest drug busts. The cargo’s en-route to China, Korea or Japan. Stop eating weird-stuff-that-is-rare please! The molluscs are also new being farmed in Hermanus in the Western Cape, so hopefully they will drive the prices down and the poachers back to their jobs at city council.

Living in Cape Town, every month or so you get a knock on the door by someone selling fish from a van. Don’t buy anything from these guys unless you are absolutely sure what you are doing (like a marine biologist). I have been caught out before and conned into buying hake cutlets which I was told were Crayfish tails…. These guys also peddle “minced Perlemoen” which I imagine is a shredded garden glove. Who would mince Perlemoen anyway? I have never actually eaten one, or part of one, but I have stubbed out my fair share of cigarettes into perlemoen ashtrays which are a feature in SA. Not sure if tourists can take one home with them without being flagged as a Triad though.

A permit to collect Perlemoen is required by law. This is also subject to season which changes often, contact the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism – Marine and Coastal Management for dates.

A traveller wanting to sample this mystical delight (Sea slug with a crash helmet), will have a few more rules to follow, before the hunt.

* They must not have a diameter of less than 114mm;
* You may not remove more than four per day;
* Only 20 can be transported in a vehicle in which there are five people who have licences to remove them from the sea. Licences for persons older than 12 years can be obtained from most magistrate’s, revenue and marine conservation offices;
* Perlemoen may be removed only by using an instrument of which the front edge measures between 25mm and 35mm and has been so rounded off that it will not cut or damage the foot of the abalone;
* All perlemoen must be landed and transported in a whole state;
* Perlemoen can be taken only for personal use and may not be sold;
* They may not be gathered between sunset and sunrise; (night)
* They may not be collected using artificial breathing apparatus, other than a snorkel.

Perlemoen recipes and snail shucking techniques.