Have you ever tasted barnacle? Most of you might say “No”.
But the other day when I was watching television I saw one of the Japanese chefs preparing barnacles as a delicacy. This surprised me; as for a number of years in the past, I have seen or been associated with barnacles but never got a chance to have it as food.
When I was working in coastal shipping, our Chief Mate used to send us down into the water with the help of harness and lifeline, to scrape the ship’s surface and remove barnacles, and I remember having done this many times.
After watching this television episode where barnacle was being served as food item, I remembered another incident. When we were young there was a famous comics series by Herge called “The Adventures of Tintin”, which we used to enjoy reading. There were as many as 24 albums in the series.These were costly for us to afford, so we used to borrow them from our friends to read.
In the comics there was a character by the name Capt. Haddock who had many inventive expletives to his name and one of the most commonly used one was “Billions of blue blistering barnacles “or even“Billions of bilious, blue blistering barnacles in a thundering typhoon”.
He was a weak and unstable character, due to his alcoholism. Being very short tempered he was often found using emotional expletive outbursts. This was the first time I heard the word“ barnacles”.
A few years later when I was sailing on ship, we used to see barnacles hitched to the surface of the ships. We had all types of non-vegetarian food on our ship, but we never ever had barnacles for food.
As we have opened this topic about the barnacles, you would be curious about their nature and how they survive. There are 1400 species of them and they like places with lots of activities like inter tidal zones, where they reside on rocks and buoys.
Being sessile organisms (lacking ability of self-locomotion)when they turn adults, they attach themselves to boats, ships, whales and sea turtles. They secrete a fast curing cement, which is glue like in nature with an adhesive strength of 22–60 pounds per square inch. There is enough research going on all around the world to figure out if this glue could be used commercially. The glue is made up of 5 types of proteins.
The other detriment of barnacles, cementing themselves to the ship is that they slow the speed of the ship, thereby increasing the fuel consumption which is not good for the environment.
Oftentimes they are found hooked on to sea turtles and whales. They don’t hurt the sea turtles, as they are attached to only the skin on the outside. Some others might burrow in to the skin and could cause future infections. Excessive barnacles on the turtle are a sign of bad health.
Many of them are also found on the backs of whales. When the whales swim through the plankton rich waters feeding on them, the barnacles too feed on the plankton. The barnacles attached to stationary objects often fall prey to predating fish and snail, but the mobile whales provide certain degree of protection to the barnacles against many of these predators.
Even on whales too much of barnacles can prove to be a drag on speed and they might develop skin infections. But as hard spiny objects, they provide protection to grey whales from other species of dangerous whales.
How do they eat? They eat with their legs.
Because barnacles are sessile animals, they have no need for the walking legs that many of their crustacean relatives possess. Their legs have adapted over time to a different use. They utilize their modified legs, called cirri, to sweep tiny food particles from the water column and pass them to their mouth parts inside their protective plates.
Barnacles secrete hard calcium plates that completely encase them. A white cone made up of six calcium plates forms a circle around the crustacean. Four more plates form a “door” that the barnacle can open or close, depending on the tide.
The barnacles are hermaphrodites meaning they have both the male and female reproductive organs.To produce baby barnacles, they must fertilize a neighboring barnacle. A tube containing sperm reaches a nearby barnacle, thereby fertilizing them. The larvae are them released into water to settle as they will.
As a young larvae swimming around freely in the ocean, it will attach to its home rock and there it will remain for the rest of its life, which could be as long as 20 years.
When the hull of a ship gets coated with barnacles, they must be cleaned. It costs billions of dollars to the shipping industry, due to extra consumption of fuel and in the process causing more pollution to the environment. The ships are painted with anti-fouling paints that prevents organisms like barnacles to pile on the surface.
Corona virus + Pollution= A deadly combination in Winter.
Time to be careful
Having come this far we will now discuss the countries where it is consumed as a delicacy.
Spain and Portugal-
Goose barnacles are crustaceans attached to the rocks in the ocean and it is difficult to procure them.This is the reason why they are costly. Well! How are they cooked there?
In a large pot add salted water and heat. When it begins to boil over, add salt and the barnacles and boil again.
After a while drain water and serve the prepared delicacy, with toasted bread and wine.
Take one barnacle and pinch between your thumb and finger. Pull the inner tube and swallow the flesh in one push.
Peru and Chile-
It is called picorocos in Chile. They are used as ingredients of seafood soup. The cooking procedure is -
Dig a hole, put burnt stones, place shell fish, barnacles, mutton ribs and potatoes and cover with earth to steam them. When they are prepared and ready, consume them.
In recent decades, one cook working in a high class Japanese restaurant noted lots of discarded barnacles in a port. These barnacles are considered obstacles by the Japanese fishermen as they cut fishing nets and damage cultured scallops. They are found 30–40 meter deep in water and are 4–5 cm in length.
The cook saw the moving legs of one of the barnacles and wondered if it could be cooked. He started serving the barnacle dish in his restaurant and the customers loved it. This encouraged him, and he informed his friend cooks too, about the barnacle dish and soon it became a fancy.
Since it is a rare seafood it is quite costly. The Japanese goose barnacles taste and texture is like crab meat. The name for these barnacles translates to turtle claws; this is because they resemble the claws of the turtle.
We come to the final question now. Why don’t people consume barnacles that often?
The biggest problem with eating barnacles is their relative size compared to the effort it takes to harvest, prepare and cook them.
The Goose Barnacle is the only species that is beginning to have a wide acceptance as a food source and this is because they are rather large compared to all the small barnacles,that abound throughout the oceans and seas of the Earth.
Barnacles just don’t lend themselves to the kind of mass harvesting and large scale processing operations necessary to generate the kind of profits that make the seafood industry viable, just like the fishing industry.
But enough research is going on for harvesting them. One day we will find that we are consuming more of barnacles due to success of aquatic farming.