The world is your oyster (once you know the oysters of the world…)

I didn’t always like oysters. I had one once in my youth – at a bar in Denver – not exactly a Mecca for oyster aficionados. The sad, tired, and probably homesick oyster was lackluster at best, and I decided that oysters weren’t for me. Fortunately, a few years ago, I was invited to an oyster-tasting put on by Slow Food Portland (Maine division, not Portlandia division), and I had my first truly fresh cold-water oyster. It was one of those “where have you been all my life?” moments, and it started me down the primrose path of oyster addiction.

I was fortunate to meet Rowan Jacobson at that fateful oyster tasting and I think his book A Geography of Oysters is both incredibly useful and very entertaining. In it, you will find a guide to which oysters you might like to taste based on your personality type  (it is both somewhat tongue-in-cheek and actually truly useful) and his website,, has an oyster finder function that helps enthusiasts identify the places their favorite oysters grow. 

If you want to carry a handy guide to oysters with you on your iPhone, you have two choices: Oysterpedia  and Oyster Bible. If you dwell in the New York area, you can check out to see their guide to establishments that serve oysters  in the area.

I also really like  Consider the Oyster: A Shucker’s Field Guide, by Patrick McMurray. It has a graphic of a  tasting wheel that is very handy for detecting and familiarizing yourself with the different flavors and characteristics unique to each oyster.

Oysters  are a fabulous choice when it comes to being ocean-friendly: they are filter feeders (they filter and eat plankton in the water) and they produce negligible waste. Indeed, oysters clean the water where they are being raised and have sometimes been used to help clean polluted waters. (Of course they can’t be eaten when they have been used to clean contaminated water.)

In Rowan’s new book, Shadows on the Gulf, he discusses, among other things, the fate of oysters post-BP oil spill. You may have read in the news that the oyster beds in Louisiana were ruined by the oil spill. Well, yes and no: in order to keep oil from coming into the oyster beds, fresh water was pumped out through the oyster beds to keep the salt water – and the oil that accompanied it – at bay. The salinity in the fresh water was so much less than that of the brackish water that the oysters required that it killed the oysters. To fix this situation, the oyster beds need to be reseeded. Will BP pay to reseed them? No way. They refuse based on the technicality that it was fresh water, not oil, that harmed the beds.  The fact that the oil spill is what necessitated the release of fresh water through the beds seems not to make a difference to them.

I wish that the leadership at BP (is that an oxymoron? Is there any true leadership at BP?) would realize that any money they spend on PR is just throwing good money after bad until they own up to the consequences of their actions and set about fixing them. They need to develop both a conscience and common sense and do what’s right simply because it’s what’s right. I understand that they employ armies of lawyers who are telling them that they can’t agree to fix this problem that their actions (and inaction) created because it sets a precedent of culpability, but true leaders would ignore the advice of lawyers and do what’s right. I hope that they don’t let this opportunity slip by. It won’t come again.

In the meantime, I hope that you are feeling adventurous and want to try some oysters and/or perhaps try some varieties that are new to you. If you’ve tried some oysters in the past but didn’t enjoy them, I encourage you to give it another shot. Pick out a restaurant known for having an excellent raw bar and order three or four different kinds. Tasting a few different kinds of oysters makes for a great experience because you can pick up subtle difference between them, and you can begin to keep a little life list (written or mental) of all the oysters that you’ve tried and want to try. Bon Appetit! – Roz Cummins

2 Comments on “The world is your oyster (once you know the oysters of the world…)

  1. I have always liked oysters since I was little – fried, of course. But a raw oyster with beer is an acceptable form too!

  2. Interesting article, but Oysters should stay in the water so they can clean the water. Until we restore the decimated oyster populations, humans should avoid consuming them. In the Chesapeake Bay alone, oysters are at less than 2% of numbers they were 100 years ago. Pollution and over-harvesting have destroyed them. Please think twice before ordering oysters.

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