Can You Eat Barnacles? (Shocking Truth!)

Yes, humans can eat the meat within a barnacle. It is the gooseneck barnacle that is consumed most in the world. One way to cook and eat a barnacle is to boil them in salt water and then serve them with a light dipping sauce. Barnacles are very delicate and can easily be ruined if they are boiled for too long or seasoned with a heavy sauce that drowns their naturally sweet flavor.

Can You Eat Barnacles?

It may be surprising to hear, but human beings can eat barnacles. You will not think that these sea creatures were even ingestible and maybe even poisonous. But many people around the world and in history have eaten barnacles as a form of sustenance, especially when sailing out on the ocean.

It is in Spain and Portugal where Barnacles are eaten the most, but some places in North America serve them along with certain areas in Europe.

The most common species of barnacle that is edible is called the gooseneck barnacle. These types of barnacles are often found on rocks and along coastlines. In past centuries, since they were not considered animals or seafood, Christians in certain countries were allowed to eat them on days that they were not allowed to eat meat. But this was not a universal practice.

What is Percebes?

Percebes is a Spanish dish that consists of goose barnacles that are cooked in salt water. Although these barnacles are cooked in a similar way to other types of barnacle dishes, Percebes is a delicacy in Spain, and 2 lb of this food can cost over 200 Euros.

How to Harvest Barnacles

Even though Barnacles are a major problem for ships, if you require food, they can be harvested right off of the ship’s underside and eaten. This is one of the main ways barnacles were harvested in history. To harvest a barnacle, all you have to do is pinch it off by hand. Then just squeeze the barnacle until the meat comes out. You can also scrape the barnacles off with a scraper tool. But if you use a scraper, be sure only to scrape off the barnacle and not pieces of wood if you are scraping barnacles off a pier or wooden boat.

Scraping barnacles takes a lot of muscle power and time, so take breaks in between each section of barnacles that you scrape off and keep a bucket of seawater with you to place in the barnacles.

How to Cook Barnacles

One way to cook barnacles is to boil them in extremely salty water. The water must be at the same ratio of salt to water as seawater.

If you can cook the barnacles to the correct timing and temperature, the meat will come out very soft and slightly sweet.

When you boil barnacles, be sure to bring the saltwater up to the boiling point. Only when it is boiling can you add the meat. Once you add the barnacles into the pot of saltwater, allow them to cook for 10 minutes. You can occasionally stir them while they boil. Next to your pot of boiling water, you should have an ice bath ready. When the 10 minutes is up, immediately dump the boiling water into the sink and place the cooked barnacle meat into the ice bath. The ice bath will keep them from cooking. 

Not placing barnacles in an ice bath or allowing them to cook for longer will cause their meat to turn rubbery and flavorless.

Barnacles Recipes

The meat inside a barnacle is extremely delicate and almost flavorless, so it is best not to use heavy seasoning when flavoring it. Some people say it is like eating crab, and others say it is like eating young lobster meat.

Most recipes for barnacles do not have them drenched in heavy or thick sauces. They are simply flavored with salt and serve with lemon dressing on the side. You can also create a lemon butter sauce to dip them in as if you are dipping crab meat.

You can also create a garlic butter dipping sauce or a garlic aioli sauce to pair with barnacle meat as well.

What to Beware When Eating Barnacles

Barnacles are safe for human beings to eat under normal circumstances, but there are certain groups of barnacles that should not be consumed by humans or by other sea creatures. Not because they are poisonous but because they are ingesting the wrong types of food. Scientists and researchers that specialize in aquatic creatures around the world are now finding that barnacles are eating plastic as they are mistaking it for food.

Scientists who have traveled to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch brought back more than 350 Barnacles and dissected them. Inside, they found tiny microplastic particles within the barnacle’s systems. Some of these microplastic particles are less than 1 mm big, and the larger barnacles head more than 30 pieces in their system. Not only does this make eating barnacles dangerous for human beings, but it also affects the food chain in the ocean.

Animals who feed on barnacles are also ingesting the microplastics. But these particles are not digestible, and the pieces stay inside the animal’s system. Many of these larger species in the aquatic food chain have been caught by fishermen, which means that they are shipped to grocery stores and restaurants around the world. This is not the fault of the barnacles themselves. It is part of a larger disaster chain created by human beings and our overuse of plastics.


Barnacles are edible crustaceans that can easily be cooked and eaten. These creatures can be pulled off by hand or scraped off with a scraping tool. In Spain, there is a dish called Percebes, which is extremely expensive and costs over 200 Euros for only 2 pounds of meat. If you want to cook barnacle meat, place them in a pot of boiling salt water for around 10 minutes and then immediately plunge them into an ice bath. Serve the barnacles with a light dipping sauce and do not smother them with heavy sauces or creams.

Read more: Can You Eat the Green Stuff Inside a Lobster?

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