MedSNAIL: biodiversity protection in Malta through the Slow Food’s Ark of Taste program

FAMP edition

Not so long ago, Malta has ranked highest in the world for the fragility of its biodiversity and ecosystems. The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES) index, formulated by the Swiss Re Institute, marked 100 per cent of Malta’s ecosystems as fragile. Included in this biodiversity, of course, is food biodiversity, which, although often forgotten, is the basis of many ecosystems.

Since the 1990s, 75% of agricultural crop varieties have disappeared and three quarters of the world’s food come from only 12 plant and five animal species. And this loss has direct consequences on the food we eat. Out of around 30,000 edible natural species, just 30 crops provide for 95% of the entire world’s nutritional requirements. Of these 30, wheat, rice and corn provide more than 60% of the calories consumed worldwide.

The MedSNAIL project partners' efforts are therefore focused on trying to reverse this trend, safeguarding the enormous heritage of biodiversity that we still have.

And it is in this context, that Slow Food's Ark of Taste welcomes two new passengers on board: in addition to the 7 products already on board, the Gozo artisanal salt and the orange blossom, also called Ilma Zahar.


The history of Gozo artisanal salt pans goes all the way back to Phoenician times. Xwejni salt pans are one of the oldest sites where the basins and channels were hand cut in the flat limestone coastline. And today, Xwejni Sea Salt is produced mainly by two families, who have passed on the trade from one generation to the other.

The preservation of this product is not only gastronomic but characterizes an entire ecosystem: the north coast of Gozo is characterised by a chequerboard of rock-cut saltpans protruding into the sea. These 350-year-old salt pans, which stretch about 3km along the coast, are more than just scenic. They are part of the centuries-old Gozitan tradition of Sea-Salt production.


Ilma Zahar, however, is a distillate made by the leaves and blossoms of Seville orange trees. More than 100 years old in the village of Xaghra, where in the past more than 10 producers were found, nowadays only one remains who still continues the traditional and homemade production. The production of this distillate is complex and time-consuming, as well as traditional tools and large quantities of raw material: four pounds of orange blossom produce one quart of pure orange blossom water. This orange blossom water has also therapeutic properties and is used as a sort of digestif to settle the stomach. It is also used in many kinds of sweets and biscuits and used to be sprayed on qaghaq taz-zokkor as they come hot out of the oven. A few drops of orange blossom water and a little ground cloves make a fine addition to a cup of good black coffee – a tradition acquired from Middle East countries.



Traditional biodiversity hides so many stories as well as profound richness. It is crucial to save it, but there is still a long way to go. So, we have set ourselves an ambitious goal: to board thousands of products on the Ark, tracking them down in every corner of the planet.


The Slow Food’s Ark of Taste travels the world collecting small-scale quality productions that belong to the cultures, history and traditions of the entire planet, pointing out their existence, drawing attention to the risk of their extinction within a few generations and inviting everyone to take action to help protect them.

The aim of the MedSNAIL project is to tackle these issues by fostering the valorization and development of small-scale traditional agro-food value chains, combining enhancement of market potentialities and socio-environmental sustainability. Project activities will build on the well-established experience, principles and methods of Slow Food, an international grassroots organization promoting traditional food with a strong focus on biodiversity preservation.

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