Can You Eat Snow?

There’s a study out there, published between 2008 to 2009, that suggests wintering beef cattles can actually eat snow as their primary source of water, thus extending the grazing season a bit more while eliminating the costs of providing clean and drinkable water concomitantly.

That’s an exciting discovery for anyone who’s a rancher, and that of wintering beef cattle to be specific.

For the average joe, stumbling upon such discovery can only open up pages of critical deliberation in their heads!

One question, I’m certain, will definitely make its way into the stack of imaginations is whether or not humans can actually use snowflakes the same way wintering beef cattles can. Or atleast, we think they can?

In other words, can we eat snow? Can we use it as a water source?

Snow is most certainly edible, but only the flakes you snatch up directly from the air or gather up from the layer between what’s touching the ground and what’s on top. These are less contaminated and less colonised with harmful microorganisms and pollutants and are thus the safest kind of snow you can consume.

Fresh snow is largely clean because it’s simply water droplets that have crystallized, except for the center which is mostly a nuclei made up of impurities like dust or dirt, and also for when they fall and accumulate debris and microorganisms in the atmosphere.

Below we’ll discuss more about the purity of snowflakes, what kind of snow to eat, how to eat snow for hydration and what other things you can do with snowflakes.

What exactly is snow and how pure is it?

Snow, at the elemental level, are ice crystals originating from supercooled water droplets that attach to a dust particle or tiny particle called the condensation nuclei and freeze into a crystal.

They differ from frozen rain in the sense that water vapor(s) transition from the gaseous to solid states without undergoing the liquid phase.

Many factors contribute to the formation of snow crystals, part of which includes altitude and wind speed. Discussing them is beyond the scope of this article.

Snow crystals start out very pure without an atom’s weight of contamination in them. But the moment the elemental composition in them, the ”supercooled water droplets”, fall and attach to a dust or dirt nuclei (which is necessary for the formation of the crystal), they lose their 100% purity and now have a center that is made up of contamitant.

The above is half of the reason why snow isn’t entirely pure, the other reason being that as the crystal further transit down to earth, it joins with other crystals to get bigger and bigger, and also accumulates more dirt and pollutants in that course which contaminates it further.

How much contamination an ice crystal has will directly depend on how polluted the atmosphere is in the first place — you would expect areas of heavy manufacturing and agricultural activities like urban regions to have more atmospheric pollution than rural areas.

Additionally, the kind of contamination in snow flakes will also depend on the area where it is falling.

Snowflakes falling near farms and agricultural fields will acquire dust, pollen and pesticide contaminants in them whereas those falling near manufacturing plants will have soot and other plant based contaminants like heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic compounds.

It’s good to also note that pollutants are not the only substance that can contaminate a snowflake in the atmosphere, microorganisms like algae and cyanobacteria can also settle inside snowflakes as they make their transit from the atmosphere down to the surface of the earth.

What kind of snow should you eat and which should you avoid eating?

Don’t eat first snow

First snow is basically snow that falls first. You want to avoid eating this snow because it is exposed to more contaminants in the atmosphere during transit which makes it rake up higher levels of bad stuffs than other snow.

Avoid top and bottom layer of ground snow, eat from the middle, and make sure it’s fresh

Top layer snow that has aged a bit, is exposed to contaminants like dirt and dust as much as the bottom layer snow directly
in contact with the ground and plants, so avoid them at all cost.

When eating snow that has already covered the ground, you want to make sure it’s fresh, and definitely a scoop in the middle!

Don’t eat snow that is discolored

Discolored snow is mostly a sign that microbial activities are going on in the snow, even though it’s not always the case.

Take for instance, the popular yellow snow. It can happen when people urinate on white snow that has settled on the ground, or from algae colonization. The water soluble pigments in plants too can discolor snow from white to yellow.

Other variations in color include:

  • Red snow, also called the blood snow which results from astaxanthin, a red color pigment found in certain algaes that thrive in the snow.
  • Green snow, resulting from the green pigment found in certain algae, plants and even cyanobacteria settling in the snow.
  • Brown or orange snow which can be the result of algaes and also other contaminants such as sand, dirt or dust.
  • Grey snow, resulting from soot, dust, volcano, ash etc.
  • Blue snow, resulting from toxic dyes like cobalt, although most blue snow is white snow that simply appears blue because of the way the ice crystals refract light.

Like top and bottom layer snow, avoid any snow that isn’t pristine white because it may harbor microorganisms that can make you sick when you ingest them.

Don’t eat snow in pathways like highways, don’t also eat snow that has been plowed or walked on.

Snow in pathways or highways is susceptible to contamination. People can step on it for one reason or the other or ride a motorcycle or drive over it.

Snow that has been plowed is also not safe to eat as it’s chances of coming into contact with impurities is very high.

Don’t eat snow that fall on trees

It might be tempting to go for snow that falls on trees but these too aren’t safe to eat at all. Tree leaves serve as reliable accommodation for microorganisms and pollutants, and snow settling on these leaves will only accumulate the junk inside of it.

Eat mostly snow you collect directly from the sky — fresh

Even though snow contains contaminants like dirt and chemicals, it is still expected to be much cleaner and safer compared to public drinking water because the contaminants are only present in trace amounts. And don’t get me wrong, that’s fresh clean snow we’re talking about!

That’s why it’s okay to grab a clean bucket and collect as much snow as you’d like inside of it. Make sure to eat it immediately or purpose into something like the delicious snow ice cream that actually incorporates snow as part of the recipe.

You can also freeze snow for as long as you like.

Only eat snow for fun, and not too much.

Because eating snow is fun and practical doesn’t mean you should go out there and munch on a bucket full of snowflakes. Eat snow in moderation, and avoid eating too much as it will cause you to expend a lot of energy to convert it to liquid.

Such a process, aside from energy consumption, also expends water in the body and that can give you the opposite effect you’d expect with consuming snowflakes – which is to keep you hydrated!

If you must eat snowflakes to stay hydrated, make sure to boil the snowflakes first by de-icing in a pot over medium heat and then cooking until it reaches boiling point, about 5 minutes or so. Next, filter to further remove impurities present in the water. Store in a clean jar and put in the refrigerator to chill.

Snow ice cream

Snow ice cream is an easy creation you can make at home to make snow eating more fun and interesting.

There are many variations of this particular recipe and you are free to play with the ingredients and tweak the recipe to match your exact taste. Here’s the most basic ice-cream preparation you can make with the snowflakes you’ve gathered.

For this recipe, you only need two ingredients.

  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Snowflakes

Transfer your snow flakes into a glass bowl pre-frozen already. Now add in the milk and stir gently to incorporate the two ingredients together. Enjoy!

Final Thoughts

Snowflakes are safe to consume in moderation, and it’s a general consensus that they’re purer than most public drinking water when treated as drinking water.

When eating snowflakes for the primary purpose of hydration, ensure you boil them so they’re back to their liquid state to avoid dehydrating your body or lowering your internal body temperature which can be hazardous.