Can You Eat Barnacles? A Quick Guide

can you eat barnacles

Barnacles are small, hard crustaceans commonly found attached to rocks, shells, and other marine surfaces in shallow waters. Despite their unassuming appearance, these creatures have become the focus of an intriguing question: can you eat barnacles? The answer is yes – barnacles are not only edible but have also become a prized delicacy in fancy restaurants and fish counters worldwide.

There are numerous species of barnacles, and it is important to note that not all of them are safe to eat. Some barnacle varieties should be avoided due to their diet and the potential risk they pose to human consumption. When harvested and prepared correctly, barnacles offer a range of health benefits, as they are rich in nutrients such as vitamins, iodine, fatty acids, minerals, calcium, and iron.

With a mild, slightly salty taste, barnacles have been likened to other shellfish such as mussels and clams. Their low-caloric density and nutrient richness also make them a suitable option for those watching their weight or seeking a metabolism and immune health booster.

Can You Eat Barnacles?

Yes, people can eat barnacles, as they are edible and safe for consumption. These crustaceans have become a delicacy in many high-end restaurants and fish counters worldwide. However, there are numerous barnacle species, and not all are safe to eat.

Barnacles are found attached to rocks or other animal shells in shallow waters. Although they may not appear appetizing, barnacles are considered a delicacy in many cultures. There are a variety of ways to prepare and cook barnacles. One popular method is boiling them in water for a few minutes.

Some barnacles should not be consumed because they ingest the wrong types of food. To ensure safety, it is crucial to identify the suitable barnacles group for consumption. One common and sought-after variety is the gooseneck barnacle (percebes), which is available at many seafood shops.

Barnacles have a unique life cycle, with sexual maturity reached at two years of age. They have variable lifespans, depending on their species, ranging from 18 months to over 10 years. The average barnacle’s life cycle includes the egg, two larval stages, a juvenile stage, and adulthood.

Nutritional Value of Barnacles

Barnacles are not only safe to eat, but also offer various nutritional benefits. This marine crustacean has become a popular delicacy in many restaurants and fish markets around the world, especially goose barnacles or percebes. In this section, the nutritional values of barnacles, including protein content and vitamins and minerals, will be discussed.

Protein Content

Barnacles are a rich source of protein, with 100 grams containing approximately 16 grams of protein. Proteins are essential macronutrients that contribute to the strengthening of muscles, bones, and skin, and facilitate the regeneration of cells in the body. As barnacles are pure proteins, they can be recommended for their good protein content, which is vital for maintaining overall body health.

Vitamins and Minerals

In addition to proteins, barnacles are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that contribute to their health benefits:

  • High amounts of iodine help maintain a healthy metabolism and thyroid function
  • Vitamin B12 assists in maintaining healthy nerve function, red blood cell production, and DNA synthesis
  • Essential amino acids support the growth and repair of tissues in the body
  • Minerals such as calcium and iron are necessary for strong bones and red blood cell production, respectively

Barnacles also provide a low-caloric density, containing about 66 calories per 100 grams, making them suitable for people who are monitoring their calorie intake. Moreover, their substantial nutrient content may benefit metabolic and immune health, which contributes to their overall nutritional value.

Culinary Uses of Barnacles

Barnacles, as crustaceans, have found their way into the culinary world while offering a unique taste and texture. They are edible and safe to consume, becoming popular delicacies in various countries. This section will discuss the traditional dishes involving barnacles and the cooking techniques used to prepare them.

Traditional Dishes

Barnacles are commonly consumed in several countries, especially in Spain and Portugal. One such Spanish dish is Percebes, an expensive seafood platter that features barnacles as its main ingredient. The price of this dish can be as high as 200 Euros for only 2 pounds of meat. In Portugal, barnacles are traditionally boiled and served with a dipping sauce made from herbs like thyme, garlic, and parsley, which enhances their natural taste and creates an enjoyable eating experience.

Cooking Techniques

Barnacles can be cooked using various techniques, allowing for a wide range of recipes that cater to different preferences. Here are some common methods used to prepare barnacles:

  • Rinsing & Boiling: Like other shellfish and crustaceans, barnacles need to be rinsed thoroughly before cooking to remove any dirt or sand attached to them. Boiling is a popular and straightforward method to cook barnacles. Simply bring a pot of water to boil with salt, then cook the barnacles for a few minutes until they’re tender.
  • Slow Cooking: For a more tender and flavorful barnacle dish, you can use a slow cooker (or a pressure cooker). This method involves adding barnacles, some water or broth, and your preferred seasonings into the slow cooker and then cooking them for a few hours until tender.
  • Steaming: Another healthy way to cook barnacles is steaming. You can place them in a steaming basket over boiling water, cover them, and steam them for a few minutes until they become tender.

Whether served as a traditional dish or prepared using various cooking techniques, barnacles offer unique flavors and textures that make them a prized culinary delicacy across the globe.

Harvesting and Sustainability

Barnacle Harvesting Methods

Gooseneck barnacles and acorn barnacles are the species commonly harvested for human consumption. Gooseneck barnacles are more popular, as they provide more meat than acorn barnacles. Harvesting methods differ depending on the region:

  • In some places, barnacles are hand-harvested by divers, who use specialized equipment to scrape them off rocks
  • In other regions, local fishers collect them during low tide, using long hooks or other tools
  • Some fishermen use nets or other trapping methods to collect barnacles in larger quantities.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of barnacle harvesting is generally considered low when compared to more massive seafood industries like commercial fishing.

  • As filter feeders, barnacles naturally clean the water and help to maintain overall water quality and ecosystem balance
  • Harvesting of barnacles is usually limited by the ability of divers or fishers, reducing the likelihood of overharvesting or depleting local populations.

However, it is important to consider the following impacts:

  • Barnacles, like all sea creatures, contain microplastics; ensuring proper cleaning and preparation can mitigate the issue
  • Barnacles may grow in areas with higher levels of pollution, which can result in the accumulation of toxins in their tissues; sourcing barnacles from cleaner waters and proper testing can help reduce this risk.

Careful management, safe harvesting practices, and monitoring of barnacle populations are key to ensuring a sustainable and environmentally friendly source of seafood.

Health Considerations

Allergies and Dietary Restrictions

It is important to be aware of potential allergies and dietary restrictions when considering the consumption of barnacles. Individuals with shellfish allergies should avoid eating barnacles, as they may trigger similar allergic reactions. Symptoms of a shellfish allergy can include itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, and digestive issues.

Additionally, those following specific diets, such as a kosher or halal diet, may need to avoid barnacles due to religious restrictions.

Shellfish Toxins

While barnacles are generally safe to eat, they sometimes can carry harmful toxins. Exposure to these toxins can result in symptoms such as stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, tiredness, and skin, eye, nose, or throat irritation. In some cases, muscle weakness and dizziness may also occur. To reduce the risk of ingesting harmful toxins, it is essential to source barnacles from non-contaminated waters and avoid consuming those found in areas with harmful algal blooms or cyanobacteria.

In summary, barnacles can be a nutritious and tasty addition to one’s diet, but it is crucial to consider potential allergies or dietary restrictions and ensure they are sourced from safe environments to minimize the risk of toxins.


Barnacles are indeed edible and considered a delicacy in various parts of the world, particularly in Portugal and Spain. They are crustaceans with a mild flavor and light texture. Among the different species of barnacles, goose barnacles or percebes are safe and nutritious to eat. They are a good source of protein, iodine, vitamin B12, and essential amino acids, with low calorie and fat content.

While it is possible to consume barnacles raw, it is not recommended due to their texture. Boiling proves to be a better option for consumption. Additionally, it is important to be cautious when selecting barnacles to eat, as not all species are safe for human consumption.

In summary, barnacles can be a flavorful and nutritious addition to one’s diet, but it is crucial to ensure the species being consumed is safe and prepared properly.

For more guidance on whether or not a sea creature is edible, check out the following pages:

Captain Tyler Brady

Captain Tyler Brady

Hi, I'm Captain Tyler Brady, founder of A Fellow Fisherman. Thank you for reading this post and visiting my site. I strive to provide the best information when it comes to fishing, whether it is myself or A Fellow Fisherman that is part of my team. Now stop reading and GO fishing!

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