Written By: Lisa Bredahl, Flavors of St. Thomas tour guide
What is conch? I am sure you are familiar with the large sea shells you put to your ear to hear the ocean, yes, this is the conch shell. The Queen Conch is a large snail herbivore that inhabits the Caribbean Sea and reaches a maximum length of 30 cm within 3-5 years. They have been known to reach ages of 40 years and as they age, their shells thicken instead of continuing to grow larger. The native Caribbean Indians harvested the conch for centuries and it is still used in local recipes to this day. The natives used the shells as tools, knives, chisels, jewelry, cookware and blowing horns. Very rarely, 1 in 10,000 conchs, a conch pearl may be found within the mantle. The pearls occur in a range of colors similar to the shell’s interior color.
In St. Thomas, the conch was also used as a way to communicate with the enslaved people and plantation owners. The emancipation of slavery occurred on July 3, 1848, and each year on Emancipation Day, the conch shell horn is blown to celebrate freedom. Don’t pass the Freedom Sculpture located in Emancipation Garden without noting the conch shell in the emancipated man’s hand.
Popular local dishes include stewed conch, conch in butter sauce, conch fritters and conch salad. The conch must be pressure cooked to create a tender meat you can enjoy. On your next trip to St. Thomas, try one of our delicious conch dishes.
Here’s a delicious conch recipe.