When most people hear the word “barnacles,” they probably think of Spongebob’s high-pitch laugh and silly antics.
It isn’t likely that those viewers have ever considered barnacles as a dining option and probably assumed that they were inedible or even gross.
People who’ve seen barnacles stuck to rocks near them probably never thought about eating one, either.
However, barnacles are a delicacy in many parts of the world and are much better than most people realize.
While barnacle recipes are rarer than options for mussels and other similar seafood, cooking this meat can be a rewarding and adventurous experience for those who love trying new foods and want a seafood variation on mussels and clams.
In this article, we’ll discuss barnacles taste, highlight their texture, analyze their look, and provide other information to help you when choosing this dining option.
We’ll also give you a few recipes that can help you produce great meals using this unlikely food source. Each recipe will also include side dish suggestions that make it easier to enjoy this meal.
What Are Barnacles?
Barnacles are arthropod creatures that are exclusively marine and heavily related to crabs and lobsters, though their appearance is quite different.
Unlike crabs and lobsters, barnacles are non-mobile creatures that filter feed by placing their head on the ground and their feet in the air.
This helps them capture various food particles and eat them by passing them down into their mouth at the center of their hardened shell.
They typically have strong shells that protect them from predators and make them very hard to crack open by predators.
Some species are actually parasites that feed on crustacean species by attaching to their shell and eating from them.
There are around 1,000 known barnacle species, though specialists believe that there are likely more in rarely explored parts of the world.
Once a barnacle finds a place to live, it excretes a hard substance that bonds it directly to that surface. This bonding can be temporary or permanent, depending on the species and its feeding patterns.
A properly attached barnacle can withstand a pulling strength of over 5,000 pounds, which makes it incredibly hard to remove without specialized equipment.
What Do Barnacles Taste Like?
Despite their rather unappealing look, barnacles have a very delicious taste that is favorably compared to other sea creatures.
For example, they are often compared most often to lobsters because they have a very sweet taste with almost no fishy flavor.
Like with other diverse seafood types, barnacle taste may vary depending on its species. Two of the most commonly eaten types, gooseneck and rock barnacles, have very different tastes.
Gooseneck barnacles taste like clams and lobster and are eaten more commonly than rock barnacles.
By contrast, rock barnacles are compared favorably to crabs and scallops and absorb flavor similarly to these meats.
The rather mild flavor of barnacles means that they can be easily used in a surprising array of dishes and quickly absorb the meal’s flavors.
What Do Barnacles Look Like?
Living barnacles typically have varying shapes and sizes depending on their species. For example, an acorn barnacle has a circular shape around the center feeding hole.
They are typically made of a hard surface that masks the delicate interior, which looks more like a clam or mollusk.
Cooked barnacles are usually served still within their shell, meaning you crack them open as you do a lobster or clam.
Once open, the white flesh can be easily removed and eaten. Most people compare the interior to a mussel or a clam, depending on the species.
What Texture Do Barnacles Have?
Barnacles have a tough exterior texture that requires special tools to crack, just like lobsters, crabs, and clams.
This texture may be ribbed and uneven, though a typical barnacle has a rather long and cylindrical body that gives them a unique shape and feel.
The interior meat is usually quite chewy and requires a bit of work to eat properly. While boiling and other booking processes may tenderize or soften the meat, it still retains a chewy texture.
That gives them a feel like clams or mussels, which makes sense, given their nature.
Types Of Barnacles
There are over 1,000 different barnacle species around the planet, making it impossible to discuss them in depth here.
However, it is worth highlighting the gooseneck and rock barnacle varieties. While we already highlighted their taste, we can briefly discuss their looks a bit more.
Gooseneck barnacles have a white shell with a folded half that makes them look similar to clams. Like other barnacles, they have a long exterior body that is typically hidden from view most of the time. They’re among the more attractive barnacles for most cultures.
Rock barnacles have a more circular shape with a round hole in the center of the hard shell where they filter food.
They are commonly widespread throughout their region and can cover shallow areas entirely and making it hard to swim in these regions.
Where Do Barnacles Come From?
Barnacles can be found in just about every ocean around the world and typically live in shallower water. That’s because it’s easier for them to filter foods in these areas because of the smaller feeding area.
Gooseneck barnacles are typically more common in warmer waters, such as off the coast of Spain.
Rock barnacles are often found in colder areas, including along northwest Europe and through cooler waters along North American coasts.
Some barnacles are even found in freezing waters in the Arctic Ocean, giving them a uniquely diverse spread across the planet.
Are Barnacles Healthy? Or Dangers Of Eating Barnacles?
Barnacles are rich in nutrients, including vitamins, iodine, fatty acids, minerals, calcium, and iron.
This combination of nutrients comes with a low-caloric density that may be good for people trying to watch their weight. Barnacles may also help with metabolic and immune health.
Note that some barnacle species have toxic chemicals that may be dangerous to some people or which may cause immune system reactions.
Barnacles may also contain some mercury, though they are not typically considered high in this dangerous chemical.
How Do You Eat Barnacles?
Barnacles are typically boiled to soften their meat and served with just minor seasonings, such as lemon, salt, or pepper.
They are rarely mixed with heavy or thick sauces but often go very well with lemon butter because it brings out the unique texture of this meal.
Barnacles are typically served with a few sides, including some vegetables, though their unique taste often makes it hard to pair them with other foods. Pair them with common lobster or crab side dish types to get the best result from this meal.
How Can I Store Barnacles?
You can typically store barnacles in your fridge as you would other seafood types, like halibut. It is best to keep them for no more than three days to minimize the risk of spoiling.
Preserved barnacles, such as pickled or smoked types, are quite rare but should be kept only as long as is suggested by the manufacturer or for about a week.
Can You Freeze Barnacles?
It is possible to freeze barnacles for a month or more by wrapping them in plastic and storing them in an air-tight container.
Note that barnacles may be more prone to freezer burn and other cold-related damage. As a result, it is important to be careful when freezing these creatures to avoid damaging them.
How To Tell If Barnacles Are Bad?
Spoiling barnacles develop a bad smell that should smell similar to rotting mussels or clams. Fresh barnacles have almost no taste, so when you notice an aroma that worsens with time, get rid of them.
Barnacles may also develop mold or softness in the flesh which indicates spoiling.
Barnacles Vs. Mussels
Mussels and barnacles are very similar creatures that also possess similar tastes and nutrient levels. Mussels are typically more commonly eaten because they’re easier to catch and open and don’t look as weird as barnacles to most people.
However, both have a similar overall texture and taste, with mussels having a slightly higher fat content than barnacles.
How Do You Cook Barnacles?
Most barnacle recipes boil them in salt water to help soften them up and make them easier to eat. You can either use seawater if you live near an ocean or make a saltwater mix that emulates it.
Mix 70 grams of sea salt to one liter of water to emulate the ocean.
It is important to boil them for 10 minutes and stir them occasionally to help keep them from sticking to the pan. You then drain the hot water and put the barnacles in an ice bath immediately.
Doing so stops the meat from becoming chewy and makes it rather sweet and soft.
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Quick Table: 3 Barnacles Taste Recipes
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Percebes refers to a traditional barnacle meal popular in many parts of Spain.
This coastal country has many gooseneck barnacles growing throughout its shores, providing plenty of options for eating this meal. There are several different ways that you can eat this meal.
It should take about five minutes to prep and cook, leaving you with a 10-minute cooking time. Even better, this meal should provide you with about four portions of barnacles.
You’ll need a few pounds of gooseneck barnacles (percebes) that you can find from many different seafood shops.
Mix 70 grams of sea salt into one liter of water, as mentioned previously, and bring the water to a boil. Place the percebes into this boiling water and let them cook for about one minute to soften them up.
Put them in a pre-heated bowl and serve with cracking tools and forks for easier eating.
As for sides, this meal is traditionally served with fresh white bred and white wine. The type of white wine you pick doesn’t matter, though a Cabernet Sauvignon is a common option.
Try to eat these barnacles while they’re still warm to get the best result from this dish.
The only hard part about this recipe is finding percebes near you. Some regions may not sell barnacles or have limited supplies available.
Otherwise, this meal is fairly easy to cook and can be served with side dishes like coleslaw or even mashed potatoes.
Calories Per Serving: 50
Preparation Time: 15 Minutes
This recipe is a variation of the traditional Spanish cooking method use for gooseneck barnacles.
It is based on ideas common in Spanish regions like Galicia and Asturias and should be easy to change to meet your needs. You cook them using the same method mentioned in the previous recipe.
If you did not read that recipe, start by mixing 70 grams of sea salt in one liter of water and boiling this mixture in a large pot.
Add two pounds or so of gooseneck barnacles and let them cook for five minutes, stirring them occasionally to keep them soft.
Here’s where the biggest variation comes into play. Mix together several herbs and spices in a bowl with melted butter.
Mix them until they are fully blended, and warm them up in the microwave for about 10 seconds to create a warm sauce.
Good herbs to use include parsley, thyme, and even garlic, as these bring out the barnacles taste.
When eating your barnacles, make sure to dip them in this sauce and let them soak for a few seconds before eating. The sauce not only provides extra flavor but softens the barnacle meat as well.
This meal is a good choice if you want something a little different and want a variation similar to that eaten in Spain.
Try to add various Spanish side dishes to this meal to get better results, such as adding a rice pilaf or even twice-baked beans to expand your meal a little.
Calories Per Serving: 50
Preparation Time: 15 Minutes
The “Furikake Chex Mix” is a gluten-free, vegan, and all-natural cereal that contains seaweed, Chex cereal, Cheerios cereal, peanuts, honey, dried mushrooms, soy sauce, mini pretzels, and baked cheese crackers.
This blend of seeds and sea vegetables will add color and flavor to your cereal bowl or toast!
It is a perfect recipe to use as a starter for any party, or you would also love to serve it as a snack to your guest. With many different ingredients, it brings out the perfect taste to soothe your taste buds.
Whether you are serving them to children or elders, no one can resist the delicacy of this yummy dish. The best part of this dish is that it will be ready in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Calories Per Serving: 50
Preparation Time: 15 Minutes
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind Of Creatures Are Barnacles?
Barnacles were once thought to be closely related to snails due to their similar body shapes and looks. However, barnacles are actually more closely related to crabs and lobsters.
They are classed as crustaceans and have the same basic structure and feel of these creatures.
For example, opening up the plates and finding the barnacle inside shows a very crab-like creature.
Barnacles are much softer than crabs interior, though, and have a chewier flesh with a similarly sweet taste. That gives them a similar cuisine style comparable to crabs and lobsters.
Why Do Barnacles Look So Strange?
Barnacles have evolved over the years to lose mobility and to feed by filtering the water around them.
What was once their feet have become adapted to sweeping through the water to gather food and pass them through to the mouth inside the shell. These feet are called cirri when used this way.
The hard shell has evolved over the years to protect the very soft and immobile barnacle from predators.
This hard shell is almost impossible for most predators to crack and may include various sharp edges that make it even less appealing as a meal option.
Do Parasitic Barnacles Attack People?
Barnacles can be a very problematic creature that grows on Navy ships and in shallow pools throughout coastal regions.
These growths can weigh down and even damage ships and cut feet when stepped on. Parasitic barnacles, though, are usually not a problem to people.
Instead, parasitic barnacles attach crabs and other creatures and can even replace a crab’s eggs to get cared for like its own young.
Most parasitic barnacles are not eaten because they lack the kind of sweet meat that gooseneck and rock barnacles possess.
Can You Bake Or Fry Barnacles?
While not common, there’s no reason you can’t bake or fry barnacles. You would have to remove the meat from the shells if you wanted to fry them, though you may bake them in the shell.
This process may result in soft meat but may also overcook the barnacle and make them mushy.
Steaming is another popular option that helps to soften the barnacle and make them easier to eat. Note that most people still strongly suggest boiling barnacles in salt water.
This process gives them a little extra flavor and can even soften their shells slightly, making them easier to eat.
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