Let's Eat: Meals and Recipes,  Wanderlust: Travel Tales

Barnacles: Why You Should Eat Your Food, Not Google It

I don’t remember who advised us that barnacles were a Portuguese delicacy, but if you tell the Glamores about a wacky food you can count on us to taste it.  We announced our intention to feast on barnacles to anyone in the Tiny Kingdom who asked about our trip, and we speculated about barnacles the whole week before we left.  We were rushed leaving and I never had time to google them and see what they actually looked like, or how to cook and eat them.  All we knew was that in Portuguese they were called percebes.

We were out walking one day and saw a restaurant with beautiful seafood in the window.  I glimpsed a sign that said “PERCEBES” in fat black scrawl.  We’d found the exotic food we’d been seeking, and we rushed over and beheld a huge bowl of barnacles.


Here’s what the barnacles looked like up close:

barnacles percebe2 (that’s a rock at the bottom of the barnacles in the second picture)

We pressed our noses against the restaurant window and courageously debated proper barnacle-eating procedure.  Porter advocated starting at the pointy part and crunching down the entire length of the animal to the rock.  Bill thought it best to pop the whole crustacean into your mouth and swallow fast.    Drew, ever cautious, recommended dissecting the shell lengthwise and eating whatever we found inside.  Finn wondered what condiments went with them.  I began to doubt whether the creatures could be eaten at all. The barnacles were interesting to look at but as a potential foodstuff they were exceedingly mysterious.

“Should we go in and order some?” I asked.

The consensus was that we’d rather have some ice cream.  We’ve had a lot of practice eating ice cream in Alabama so eating it in Portugal didn’t seem nearly as daunting as facing a plateful of unfamiliar seafood.

Later in the week Drew and I had a cooking class scheduled, and the whole family went to the market  and the grocery store, where we saw barnacles for sale.


To be so ugly, they certainly were expensive, so once our chef assured us that they were indeed delicious and easy to cook, we bought only half a kilo.

Here’s how our barnacles looked when we got them home:


We boiled some water, added a lot of salt, and threw the barnacles in.  We cooked them until the water returned to the boil, and perhaps for a minute after that.


We drained them and poured them into a bowl.


Then we drank some wine while we got our nerve up to eat them.

It turns out that we were all wrong about barnacle eating technique.  Actually, you hold the rock (or hind end if there is no rock) with one hand, and pull the pointy white part out with the other hand.

pull barn

A smaller, rubbery tube emerges from the outer shaft, and that is what you eat.  If I were reviewing it for Gourmet, I’d describe it as “having the texture of a snail, with a briny aftertaste.”  Bill said it was more like eating a warm rubber band that has soaked in the ocean for four to five years.  Much to Finn’s dismay, there were no condiments involved, although I could see how some lemon-butter sauce would be a welcome addition.

But eating them was what we were there for, and eat them we did.  Or at least Drew and I did.  We pulled and sucked and chewed until all the barnacles were gone.


I was never sure what was going to come out of the tube when I pulled the pointy white thing.  Sometimes salty water would spew out.
barn before and after

(Click to enlarge: you can compare the barnacles that have been eaten on the left with those that have not, on the right).


Upon our return from Lisbon, Drew told everyone that his favorite part of the adventure was eating barnacles.  People started asking what barnacles were, exactly, and I did some research.

Big mistake.  If I’d known then what I know now about barnacles, I never would have put them in my mouth, although I probably would have encouraged the boys to eat them to see what happened.

The ThinkQuest site advised me that

Barnacles are crustaceans that have jointed legs and shells of connected overlapping plates.  Instead of crawling after food, they glue themselves to rocks, ships, pilings, abalones, and maybe even whales  to wait for food to wash by.  When barnacles are under water or when a wave washes over them, they reach out little feathery barbed legs to strain out plankton and absorb oxygen.

A barnacle’s fertilized eggs hatch into larva, then they leave the parents’ shells.  They spend their youth swimming.  After many molts they settle down to adulthood, held permanently by one of the world’s strongest known natural adhesives.


I think the pink things in the upper left corner are the “feathery barbed legs.”

The pointy white part is properly called the capitulum and contains the barnacle’s mouth, legs, head, and most of its reproductive system.

One article noted, “Barnacles are usually found in groups, which can sometimes consist of thousands of animals.  Settling near other barnacles of the same species ensures that a barnacle can reproduce, as the barnacle penis can extend only about ten times its body height to fertilise another barnacle’s eggs.”

This was written by the Reef Education Network, and I would venture a guess that the author was a man with a hangup about his own organ.  At any rate, it was reassuring to learn that the  barnacle’s long schlong was in the capitulum which we did not eat.  Thank God for small favors.

Reading about the part we did consume wasn’t comforting.  The tube is called a peduncle and contains muscles and the ovaries, which are composed of “numerous, curled yellow tubules which ultimately connect to an oviduct extending to the female gonopore.”*  That doesn’t sound very appetizing.

Maybe this will make your mouth water: “The peduncle… is a flexible, contractile stalk that attaches the barnacle to floating objects.”**

My advice for anyone eating unusual food is to watch someone else eat it first, and wait a moment for signs of distress.  If all is well, proceed with caution.

My mom used to tell me not to play with my food, and I say: Don’t google it either.


*Thanks to Richard Fox at Lander University for providing too much information.

**The Marine Life Information Network for Britain and Ireland added this appetizing description.


  • KLee

    This entire post makes me downright thankful that I am allergic to all seafood.

    And, I could have gone the rest of my natural life without knowing a danged thing about the barnacle’s penis.

    Skipping the googling might be a good thing next time. 🙂

  • Peeved Michelle

    Yay! The barnacle post! Now I never need to eat barnacles!

    You really should check out Bizarre Foods on either the Discovery Channel or the Travel Channel. That guy eats some crazy stuff and even he didn’t like the barnacles.

  • Leeny

    Well, I have to give you mucho credit for actually trying to eat those things, Anne! And your boys? Omg, no WAY would my daughter at that age even go near one! Your boys are very brave, culinarily speaking. That’s a good thing! Yay for them! As for me, I always thought barnacles were some sort of seaweed. I didn’t know they were an animal. And I don’t know if I’d be as adventurous! Thanks for the lesson – very interesting!

  • Dana

    Now I am wondering if I should ever eat shrimp again. I hadn’t thought about the reproductive organs being part of what is eaten until I read this. Thanks.

  • Izzy

    You guys are really adventurous (and brave)!

    My only experience with barnacles was watching my father dive underwater to get them off the bottom of his boat. I’ve always had a mental image of what they look like but it’s nothing like they really look. To be perfectly honest, I thought they were some kind of plant. Durrrr!

  • Karin B

    My husband looked at the pictures and started singing an old song, something about “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”.

  • Laura

    “Percebes” are great. I eat them from time to time. Thanks to you, now I have full information about them. We have great food over here don’t we?

  • MGM

    That’s the grossest thing I’ve heard anyone describe eating since the the third season of Survivor (I stopped watching after that).

  • MetroDad

    You guys have to be the most adventerous diners in the history of Alabama. Good for you for trying the barnacles. I’m a fan of them myself. And you’re totally right about not googling food before you eat it. I’ve eaten stuff in China that has no right being served on aplate.

  • CeCe

    I live on the west coast of Canada, and my husband is a fisherman. I eat all sorts of seafood, though I haven’t had barnacles yet. I wouldn’t hesitate to try them though. My husband says they taste good when cooked on the bbq. I’ve tried pretty much everything else you can think of, and I usually enjoy any seafood that crosses my plate. Sea Urchin is pretty tasty. Prawns are my favourite.

  • lexi daly

    i’ve been waiting to hear about the barnacle experience–i couldn’t imagine eating what i remembered having to watch out for on a pier ladder in point clear when i was little! but then again many people wouldn’t appreciate the three rounds of “mudbugs” i had this past weekend!

  • Kim

    i will never, in a million years, forget what a peduncle is, thanks to you.

    i can only hope and pray that it comes up in Balderdash one day.

    long time lurker. first time commenter. hi!)

  • BB

    I think I’ve finally found a way to stick to my diet….I’ll just keep reading this entry…I’ve totally lost my appetite! In fact, I’m kind of nauseated…

  • Kelly

    Proving that this article did nothing to slow down my appetite, would you post your recipe for beef balls in red wine sauce? I went from this post to some in the archive and found that delicious-sounding title.
    No way in heaven or earth would I put anything in my mouth that looked like those photos- you are so brave! My daughter, who loves shrimp as much as she loves to breathe, travelled to Cancun and saw shrimp “with the eyes still on them” and wouldn’t eat “normal” shrimp for months.

  • Reevesfarm

    I think I just threw up a little in my mouth….

    Y’all are brave, I don’t think I could have had enough wine to even consider eating one of those.

  • jenny

    bleauugghhhh! I dont even know if we are allergic to seafood as we cant touch the stuff, I just dont get it, we have a newly opened seafood shop near us, the smell alone keeps me away and I’m assured its a shop of good quality and cleanliness! I used to work in a seafood restaurant and can not see why anyone would eat sefood, we served hundreds of bowls of mussells a day, people couldnt get enough yet you couldnt pay me to eat just one, snot in a shell, nice smelling sauce or not! I take one cod liver oil tablet a day to make up for it and even that sometimes can be tasted if I burp, horrible! But I applaud you as a family for trying new things, we dont do that, creatures of habit, I’m staying right inside my comfort zone! xxx

  • Joy East of theKingdom

    AAAKKK!!!(Stupid enter button!!!)

    Let’s try again, shall we?

    Beverly to Barnacles… guess you guys really ARE brave!

  • Breah

    This has to go under one of your best posts EVER. Seriously, from this, I will never ever touch one of those. And I am sending it to all of my friends so they are on the up and up too! How in the world did you get your kids to eat that? And as for you, I applaud you. I would have needed an entire couple of bottles of wine before I even considered it!