Acorn Barnacles Barnacles

Barnacles are crustaceans related (but not too closely) to shrimp. This bane of ships and boats saps power and speed when rough barnacles take up residence on the hull - and they're very difficult to remove. Copper sheathing and toxic paint are used to fend them off. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in nature, the most troublesome species are the least edible.   Photo © i0124.


General & History

Barnacles are eaten mainly in Spain and Portugal but also end up on the plate in other European countries and are increasingly eaten in North America Only the fleshy stems of Goose Barnacle are edible.

Barnacle gathering on the West Coast of Canada has been reopened after a 4 year halt to establish environmental controls. A commercial license is required for gathering and or posession in the U.S. and exact methods for gathering are tightly controlled in both countries.

Gathering edible barnacles is difficult and dangerous. Every year people die gathering them along the Iberian peninsula in Europe and the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. Experimental commercial aquaculture is being established in the Pacific Northwest to meet increasing demand.

Barnacles first appear in the Middle Cambrian about 500 million years ago but had not yet developed the hard calcareous outer shell we see today. They are Crustaceans, thus related to shrimp (but not too closely) with which they share the basic crustacean anatomy.

Larval barnacles float around until they find a suitable substrate. Then they latch on to it with their first antennae and glue their head down to it. From then on they're pretty much stuck there. A thin layer of flesh (mantle) forms from the head and wraps around the entire body and secretes an outer shell. With Goose Barnacles (the only edible kind) the head extends to form a tough flexible stalk (the edible part).

The barnacle then feeds by using its feathery feet to capture small edible bits and critters that float by. Unlike mollusks barnacles don't pump water but depend on water circulation in exposed areas.

In Medieval times, since no-one had ever seen a goose nest or egg (they nest in the Arctic), it was thought the goose barnacle was the larval stage of the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). The barnacle goose was thus classified as a fish and allowed by the church to be eaten on Meatless Fridays.

Cleaning & Cooking

Goose Barnacles are simply scrubbed clean with a brush and are steamed, often over a broth of wine and herbs. The skin is peeled from the stem (peduncle) and the stems are eaten with a dip or in soups or chowders. The calcarous "capitulum" containing the body is discarded - nothing there to eat.


Goose Barnacle - Intertidal   -   [Gooseneck Barnacle, Percebes (Spain, Portugal); Pollicipes polymerus and similar species]
Goose Barnacles

This is the Goose Barnacle of commerce and the plate. They attach to rocks in the intertidal zone with their feathery feet facing away from the waves. They catch food going by in the outflow.

Because they prefer rugged rocky environments with big waves they are dangerous to gather. They are gathered along the Iberian Peninsula (most are eaten in Spain and Portugal) and along the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and Canada. Gathering them is tightly controlled in the Pacific Northwest and licenses are required for posession. Details and Cooking.   Photo © i0122.

Goose Barnacle - Pelagic   -   [Lepas anatifera and similar species]
Goose Barnacles

These Goose Barnacles attach to floating stuff on the high seas and depend on wave action to bring food to them. They're seen only when something they're attached to washes up on the shore. In an environment much less harsh than for intertidal species their stems are thinner. For these reasons they aren't much eaten. Details and Cooking.   Photo © i0123.

Acorn Barnacle   -   [Balanus amphitrite and similar species]

The Acorn Barnacle is the most common and troublesome family of barnacles. It cements its head directly to the substrate without any stem at all.

This is not an edible family. Most acorn barnacles are around 1/2 inch across or smaller but even the giant barnacles of Antarctica (which may be over 3 inches across) have nothing to eat inside. Details and Cooking.   Photo © i0124.

Health & Nutrition>

Barnacles are not a significant food resource so little nutritional data has been published. Presumably they would be similar to shrimp.

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