Love them or hate them, one thing is for sure, rarely do people straddle the fence on their feelings towards oysters. Raw, grilled, fried, or Rockefeller are just a few of the ways oysters can be consumed. Other than the fact that we love them, most people don’t know many facts about oysters. Let’s take a look at some oyster facts!
1. There are multiple species of oysters.
There may be more than one hundred varieties of oysters, but they all come from just 5 species. Pacific Oysters, Kumamoto Oysters, European Flat Oysters, Atlantic Oysters, and Olympia Oysters. The most noticeable differences, besides the waters in which they grow, are the shape of the shells. The Atlantic Oysters we are familiar with have a teardrop-shaped shell and tend to be on the larger side for oysters.
2. Oysters clean the water.
Oysters are incredibly efficient! One oyster filters 50 gallons of water each day. A one-acre oyster reef can filter approximately 24 million gallons per day. That’s enough water to fill 36 Olympic swimming pools. Oysters remove sediment, nutrients, and algae from the water helping to keep it in good shape for other marine life.
3. Oysters are good for the ocean.
Besides cleaning the water, oysters can also create reefs to provide a natural barrier to storm waves and sea-level rise. Oyster reefs can reduce erosion, help prevent flooding and damage from coastal storms. While it can’t stop the storms, it is believed that oyster reefs can absorb 76+ percent of wave energy. They are also cheaper to make, maintain, and grow compared to other manmade options.
4. Oysters are good for plants.
There is a good reason you find old oyster shells scattered around the bushes surrounding our restaurant. They are packed with calcium. Calcium helps to improve the soil’s pH balance, adds nutrients to the plants, and strengthens their cell walls. We like our flowers strong and beautiful and we are thankful for the shells that help!
5. Oysters offer many health benefits.
Because they filter so much water they absorb many nutrients. While those nutrients create the flavors we all love, they also provide health benefits. Oysters can contain zinc, calcium, magnesium, protein, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, and monosaturated fat (the healthy kind of fat found in olive oil).
6. Not all types of oysters make pearls.
I’m sure everyone would like to find a large, expensive pearl when we open up our oysters at the next low country festival. But the reality is, that the species of oysters we eat don’t make pearls. The oysters we eat are from the family Ostreidae. The pearl oyster is from the family Aviculidae.
7. Humans have been eating and cultivating oysters for thousands of years.
We like what we like and have for a long time. We know for certain that humans have consumed oysters at least as far back as the Roman Empire. Sergius Orata was the first documented person in history to cultivate oysters. This Roman even used them to build a system to help control water levels.
8. Oysters are shaped by their beds.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Most organisms are formed by their environment. Oysters grow in their beds (that’s what the surface a group of oysters occupy is called) based on how the other oysters are layered and growing. The good news is, harvesting oysters the right way doesn’t harm any other species. Unlike fishing with large nets that constantly catch dolphins or turtles, that doesn’t happen with oysters.
9. Oysters taste better in the winter.
Part of this is history-based and not relevant anymore, part of it rooted in fact. The adage about not eating oysters in months without a letter “r” stems from a time when it was hard to keep them cold during the warmer months. A lot of restaurants won’t even bring in oysters during the summer months. Of course, now we have ice on demand and that makes it much easier. From a factual standpoint, these bivalves tend to spawn in the warmer waters of the summer months. This makes them watery and weak. During the winter months, they grow and filter water at a much higher rate. So yes, they do taste better in the winter.
10. Like wines, oysters have a variety of flavor profiles.
Similar to grapes, the flavor of oysters can be classified by their characteristics. These flavors come from their environment. Because oysters filter so much water they take on the flavors provided by the nutrients they filter. Some of the more common personalities are briny, buttery, sweet, metallic, and mild. Some experts even claim they can detect flavors like melon, cucumber, mushroom, and more.
At Pawley’s Raw Bar we love oysters. Not because they have some sort of mythic aphrodisiac abilities. Yes, we know they are good for the environment, yes they have awesome health benefits, but we love them because they taste good, they are easy to share with friends and are always worth having a party for! Come join us in Pawleys Island and see for yourself.