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What are Conch, Whelk & Scungelli?

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Q. What is the difference between conch and scungeli?

A. Conch is a creature and scungelli is the Italian word for whelk, another creature. Conchs and whelks are often confused. Both of them are essentially large snails. Both are mollusks with one shell (gastropods, or univalves, as opposed to bivalves, or double-shelled mollusks, such as clams and oysters). The muscle, or part that is eaten, of each, resembles a foot. Both have a tendency to be tough, and are usually tenderized by vigorous pounding. The big difference — and you heard it here first — is that conchs inhabit tropical waters and live off of vegetation, while whelks generally live in somewhat colder waters and are carnivorous, terrorizing smaller mollusks, breaking through their shells with the hard knobs of their own shells, and reaching their greedy, extensible, toothy proboscises right into their victims' shells for a feeding frenzy. Sorry, got a little carried away....

The popularity of conch took an upswing in this country with the spread of "New Florida Cuisine" in the 1990s. It is eaten raw in seafood salads, sautéed quickly to avoid making it tough, or simmered at length in stews and chowders. Whelks are not particularly popular in the United States. They have found more acceptance in Chinese and Italian cooking. In Italy, scungelli marinara is a well-known dish of whelk in tomato sauce with basil, oregano, and hot pepper seeds.

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