Oyster Species Guide, Plus a Couple of Tips
There are five species of oysters eaten in the Western world.
Crassostrea virginica (C. virginica)
Common names: Eastern oyster, Atlantic oyster, Gulf oyster, Blue Point, Malpeque
This is the great American oyster, the species that occurs naturally from Canada down the East Coast to New York and Chesapeake Bay and all the way across the Gulf.
Crassostrea gigas (C. gigas)
Common names: Pacific oyster, Japanese oyster, creuse (France)
Introduced to the Pacific Coast of the United States by Asia in the early 1900s and the French coast in the 1970s, C. gigas is the most common farm-raised oyster in the Pacific Northwest and France.
Crassostrea sikamea (C. sikamea)
Common name: Kumamoto
This oversized thimble of an oyster is farm-raised in the Pacific Northwest. It has a deep bottom shell and a fluted lip. It was introduced to Washington from Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan in 1947.
Ostrea conchaphila (O. conchaphila) or Ostrea lurida (O. lurida)
Common names: Olympia oyster, Oly, tiny Pacific oyster
Early taxonomists thought O. conchaphila and O. lurida were different species, but in the 1990s, scientists agreed they were identical and combined the two names. About the size of a 50-cent piece, the tiny Olympia is the indigenous oyster of the Pacific Northwest. Like the European flat, it is a member of the genus Ostrea. The fishery collapsed in the late 1800s, but the Olympia oyster has been revived in recent years thanks to the efforts of dedicated oystermen and environmentalists.
Ostrea edulis (O. edulis)
Common names: European oysters, flat oysters, Belons
This is the oyster of the Roman orgy and the French Renaissance. The shallow, round shell resembles a dinner plate, hence the name. The flavor is the boldest in the oyster world, with strong marine components and an intense mineral aftertaste. After centuries of overfishing and the ravages of oyster diseases, O. edulis is on the verge of disappearing.
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Don’t Mix Raw Oysters & Antacids!
In cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory, Douglas Marshall and researchers at Mississippi State University built a model of the human stomach and introduced oysters containingvibrio vulnificus to try to understand what happens to the bacteria in the human gut.
They found that while stomach acids were usually enough to kill much of the bacteria, some common medications changed the equation radically. When the researchers added antacids, the bacteria in the model stomach quickly grew to a level 10 times higher than without antacids. Antacid users are now considered another “at risk” group who must avoid raw oysters at all times.
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“It is unseasonable and unwholesome in all months that have not an R in their name to eat an oyster.” —William Butler, 1599
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