Typically referred to as “slimy” and “raw” by most, there is so much that we don’t know about oysters; their origin, flavor, and health benefits! Learn all about the different types of oysters there are and their unique characteristics.
Some people absolutely love oysters, and some truly hate them, there is no middle ground here, really. A famous French poet and essayist called Léon-Paul Fargue who was also a true oyster-lover once said, “Eating an oyster is like kissing the sea on the lips”.
Oysters are one of the most commonly farmed shellfish and are also known as ‘ocean mollusks’ that are typically found in brackish or marine habitats. They are members of the Ostreidae family and are commonly found in shallow waters and a number of oceans around the world. Different oyster varieties and species have originated from different places for instance; the Pacific Oyster has come from Asia’s Pacific Coast.
Fascinatingly, oysters aren’t just one of the most favored gourmet delicacies across the globe but are also really good for the environment. How can that be? That is primarily because each oyster manages to filter almost 50 gallons of water daily. One can only imagine how much water a whole bed of oysters cleans every single day!
During 1880 and 1910, the United States began producing about 160 million pounds of oysters each year, which was way more than the number of oysters produced by other countries altogether. The production and consumption of oysters rose to such great heights during those years that New Yorkers ended up paying their ‘Pearl Street’ with hard oyster shells, after which some people even used them in the foundations of numerous buildings.
Table of Contents
- Benefits of Oysters
- Oyster Nutritional Fact Chart
- Types of Oysters
- Other Varieties
Benefits of Oysters
As unappetizing as oysters may seem to a number of people, they are actually packed with a multitude of health benefits, such as:
- Protect heart health by reducing levels of bad cholesterol in the blood.
- Speed up the healing processes in the body by boosting the immune system against microbes and infections.
- Are a rich source of protein that helps in tissue repair and muscle growth.
- Promote healthy bones and increase bone mineral density and durability.
- Boost the body’s immune system and defend it against free radicals.
- Increase the blood circulation in the body by forming red blood cells and preventing against anemia, or iron deficiency.
Oyster Nutritional Fact Chart
Types of Oysters
There are several species of oysters, some of which are further broken down into multiple varieties.
The following are some of the most common and popularly consumed oyster varieties, each with their unique and distinct characteristics, features and flavors.
Crassostrea gigas — Pacific Oysters
This variety of oysters are known by individual names including Miyagi Oyster or Japanese Oyster. They are believed to be the most cosmopolitan type of all oyster species, probably due to the fact that Pacific oysters were initially introduced to a variety of countries for aquaculture purposes, after which they went on to take over the shellfish aquaculture production globally.
These oysters are popularly cultivated on the United States’ Pacific Coast; however, they are not exactly native to that region. They are actually native to the Pacific Coast of Asia. They are significantly growing in popularity in the West Coast as well as Europe and have lately also been introduced to New Zealand, North America, Europe, and Australia.
Pacific oysters are mainly found on dense mats on rocks and sometimes on soft substrates in sub-tidal zones. One can easily identify them by their beautiful grey-blue shell that comes with highly fluted edges. The interior of the shell, however, is all white coupled with a deep purple muscle scar.
These oysters are known to grow really fast, and they typically grow to an average of 10-15 cm within a span of 2-4 years. Different varieties that fall under this oyster species contain a wide spectrum of flavors and aromas, however, they generally tend to be a little towards the sweeter side and are less salty than the Atlantic Oysters. You could describe their flavor as a mixture of creamy, salty, melon-like and vegetal.
Crassostrea sikamea — Kumamoto Oysters
Previously considered as a sub-species of the pacific oysters, the Kumamoto oysters have been named after their place of origin which lies in Japan, and then extended all the way through southern China, Taiwan, and Korea. These native Japanese oysters are now popularly grown in the Pacific Northwest and also the West Coast of North America.
Kumamoto oysters are quite similar to other varieties of oysters in terms of their irregular shape and unequal valves. They are also comparatively very small in size and manage to reach a maximum size of only 60mm. They sport round and small green-colored tumbled shells, and they have creamy meats, coupled with a mild briny flavor and a honeydew-like finish.
These oysters are often referred to as the “Chardonnay of Oysters” by many connoisseurs, mainly due to their briny, fruity flavor and their highly sculptured and fluted cells that come with deep cups. They are also nicknamed as ‘kumies’ by most people, a name given to these oysters out of deep love by oyster-lovers.
Kumamoto oysters do not apparently thrive well in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest, primarily due to the fact that they are quite used to the warm waters of their native origins in Japan.
Ostrea edulis — Belon Oysters
More commonly known as the “European Flat oysters”, Belon oysters have originated from Europe and true “belongs” are believed to come from the Belon River estuary located in Brittany. These oysters seem to have quite an interesting history behind their origin.
Apparently, some scientists transplanted a Belon oyster seed from the Netherlands to Maine sometime during the 1950s. They did this because they wanted to cultivate this species in North America. However, they ended up giving up and ending their short-lived efforts because they didn’t see any substantial results. But, after ten years, these particular oysters began to grow rapidly along the Maine coast in a variety of the river beds. Their numbers significantly grew during the 1980s after which Belon Oysters greatly began to be found along the Maine coast’s rivers, as well as the Damariscotta River.
Unlike most of their cousin oysters, the Belons or European Flat oysters have really flat shells, round shapes, and less defined cups. They have been nicknamed as “plates” by most people because they actually look like small saucers. Their meat is light brown and creamy with a very well-defined and well-pronounced metallic flavor, followed by a kind of a ‘coppery’ finish. Unlike the eastern oyster, they are less briny and have sweet overtones.
Interestingly, the color of these oysters changes to ivory once they are cooked. Also, since they have a very flat surface, they have to be stored and packed in a cup-down manner in order to retain their liquor.
Ostrea lurida/conchapila — Olympia Oysters
As the name suggests, the Olympia Oysters have been named after Olympia, Washington and have originated from the northern Pacific coast of North America. They also inhabit the west coast of Canada and are believed to be the only native oyster species found there.
The Olympia oysters are commonly also known as Native Oyster, California Oyster, and Rock Oyster, and they hold a great historical significance. These oysters are popularly used as cocktail oysters all around the world.
Interestingly, Ostrea Lurida is quite similar to another oyster species called Ostrea Conchapila. They were considered two entirely distinct and separate species; however, during the period of 1985, a man named Harry noticed very similar anatomical characteristics between the two species and further proposed a synonymy between them. Other researchers carried out further analysis on this proposition and compared their DNA sequences, only to conclude that these two species indeed are separate from one another.
The shell of these oysters can vary in shape and are typically found to be elongated or rounded. The shell color often ranges from purplish black to white with brown or yellow stripes sometimes. The flesh usually sports a pretty white or light olive green color.
Although these oysters belong to the same family that the European flats do, they are still the smallest of all the species, and their average diameter ranges somewhere between the size of a quarter and a nickel. Despite of their small size though, they are still popularly consumed because of their creamy textures with a potent flavor of copper and sweet celery, finished off by a long-lasting metallic taste.
Saccostrea glomerata — Sydney Rock Oysters
These species are also known as “Auckland Oysters” and “New Zealand Oysters” which clearly shows that they are native to New Zealand and Australia. Some of their habitats include sheltered bays and estuaries ranging from Wingan Inlet in Victoria to the Harvey Bay in Queensland.
Sydney Rock Oysters typically have a lifespan of up to 10 years, and they manage to weigh around 60 kg over a period of 3 years. Some of their other common names include “Rock Oyster” and “Western Rock Oyster”.
They are generally smaller than other varieties of oysters and grow to an average of 6-8 cm shell length. They are mainly distinguished by their shell that is relatively flattering and contains a flinty, less salty flavor. These oysters are normally available year round; however, their peak season goes on during the period of September to March.
The shell of these oysters is known to be thick and smooth, coupled with tiny teeth that are lined on the internal rim of the shell. Unlike many other oyster species, these have a very pale colored muscle scar. They also resemble the Kumamoto oysters, in terms of their deep cups and the mild-sweet flavor. They are best eaten when they are freshly shucked, however, can live up to 14 days even after, given that they provided with the appropriate temperatures and are handled with care.
Crassostrea virginica — Eastern Oysters
These oysters are also called “Atlantic Oysters” and they hail the title of ‘the American oyster’ primarily because they are found in great abundance along the North American Atlantic Coast. They are also one of the very few indigenous oysters found in North America. About 85 percent of them are harvested in the United States, where most varieties seem to come from the Gulf of Mexico.
Some of their other common names include Wellfleet oyster and Virginia oyster. These Eastern oysters have been very popular commercially and still seem to hold that very reputation. Interestingly, this oyster is the ‘state shellfish’ of Connecticut, and the shell of this oyster is considered to be the ‘state shell’ of Mississippi and Virginia.
Similar to all other oysters, the Eastern oysters consists of a hard calcium-carbonaceous shell that offers it protection against predators. They are generally very large in size and contain a slightly briny and metallic kind of a flavor. They also do have a savory finish and a crisp texture, which has helped them gain quite a following in the culinary market.
These oysters play a very important role in their ecosystem and add a great structural element to it. This is because they are more of a ‘foundation species’ since they play the role of an ‘ecosystem engineer’ particularly in West Atlantic estuaries.
They grow up to 10 centimeters in length and have a pear-shaped outline. However, the members within this species are found in a great many sizes and shapes. The shell of these oysters typically consists of a dirty gray exterior, a white interior, and a deep purple-colored muscle scar. Some other varieties may even sport a mixture of brown, forest green and cream colors.
Eastern oysters are significantly affected by varying water temperatures, so in relatively warm waters, for example, these oysters can reach the market size in a period of 18 months, but in frigid waters, they may take almost 4 years to grow.
The Atlantic Oyster Species further includes a great many other varieties of oysters, most of which are typically found in Canada and the United States. Some of the most common and popular varieties are listed below.
Blue Point Oysters
These oysters have been so named after the town Blue Point in Long Island and are commonly found on the East Coast side. Since they are harvested from multiple locations including the New York and Connecticut oyster regions, their flavor is all over the place, and the brininess has quite different ranges.
Blue Point oysters were particularly famous back in the 1800s because of their wild and robust flavor, eventually becoming a favorite of Queen Victoria.
They have a medium size and consist of a mild, meaty and salty flavor. Their texture is very crisp, firm and fresh which leaves a salty-sweet aftertaste.
This Atlantic Oyster has come from an oyster appellation in Canada, and the name ‘Beausoleil’ translates to “beautiful sun” in English. They grow to an average size of 2 1/2 “and consist of a very delicate flavor profile that is coupled with a sweet finish and mild saltiness.
An interesting feature about these oysters is that they are farmed through the tray suspension method in which the waves and tides cause them to rustle against each other. This constant rustling act is what to the creation of their hard and petite shells that have a consistent shape with deep cups.
Misty Point Oysters
These hard-shelled oysters are available year-round and are generally raised on the islands located at the southern tip of the eastern shore of Virginia. They grow to an average size of up to 3” and are typically cultivated using the rack and bag cultivation process.
This particular type of oyster cultivation puts the misty point oysters through a tumbling process that helps harden their shells, give them a proper, consistent shape, along with deep and prominent cups.
They contain firm meats that are set deep into their cups, coupled with a simple flavor that has traces of very obvious salinity and hints of fresh lettuce and celery.
Well Fleet Oysters
Having originated from the East Coast, these well fleet oysters thrive in the rich and cold waters provided by northern Maine and the Canadian Maritime provinces. The cold water helps these oysters reserve their meaty, sweet flavor by building up glycogen reserves that further slow their metabolism process.
Well, Fleet oysters are quite popular for their plump meats with a firm texture, and a crisp, mild flavor that is high in its level of brininess. These are typically beach or bottom cultured species of oysters and grow to an average height of 3 ½”.
Are you tempted to try these delicious oysters yet? If not, perhaps, you must know that oysters come in such a huge variety of flavors that they are often compared to flavors of wine!