Features 2 minutes 20 September 2017

A Guide to Oysters Around the Globe

Many of these varieties are easily available on restaurant menus. But if you can’t yet tell them apart, here’s our brief go-to guide.

They may look identical at first glance, coming in various shades of grey with a similar briny flavor. That, to a layman is what all oysters look and taste like but to a true connoisseur, every variety—and there are a TON—has its own characteristics.

Like wine, terroir and variety matters when it comes to the world of oysters. Everything from salt levels to microorganisms and even mineral components of its environment affects the taste and texture. Just think how different the coasts of the United States vary from the rivers of France, let alone the shores of far down under in Australia.

Many of these varieties are easily available on restaurant menus. But if you can’t yet tell them apart, here’s our brief go-to guide.
Kumamoto Oysters
The Kumamoto oyster originated in Yatsushiro Bay, Kumamoto Prefecture, but is now mostly cultivated in the United States. It is smaller than its European counterparts and sports a deep, bowl-like shell. Flavor-wise, it has a mild brininess and is sweet in taste likened to the Hami melon, which makes it perfect for those who are new to enjoying oysters. 

Pacific Oysters
The Pacific oyster is the most common variety as it is environmentally tolerant and grows fairly rapidly. For this reason, its cultivation has spread from the coasts of Japan where it originates, to North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s so closely related to the Kumamoto, that they are often mistaken for each other in its shell shape as well as taste.  

Sydney Rock Oyster
The Australian waters set their oysters apart from the rest of the world as they are creamier and have a sharper mineral taste. Typically smaller than Pacific oysters and yellowish in appearance, Sydney Rock oysters are found around the eastern shores of Moreton Bay. 

Angasi Oysters
With its coin-shaped shell, the Angasi is native to Australia and is mainly cultured on the Tasmanian coast. Unlike its Sydney Rock cousins, it’s known to be a rather slow grower and quite fragile—a rare treat that’s best to be consumed right after harvesting.

Atlantic Oysters 
The Atlantic oyster, also known as Eastern oyster, is tear-shaped and much flatter than the Pacific oyster, with a heavy salty taste. Two of the better-known Atlantic oyster varieties are Blue Points, found in Long Island, New York, and Cape Cod’s Wellfleets. The former is known for its robust notes while the latter is relished for its strong briny flavor and a seaweed-like note at the finish. 
Gulf Coast Oysters
Louisiana is home to the largest remaining oyster reefs. Unfortunately, numbers have been down to the BP oil spill in 2010. These tender oysters from the Gulf are rich and meaty in texture and have a mild taste from the fresh water of the Mississippi River. Popular varieties include Isle Dauphine (from Alabama), Caminada Bay (Louisiana) and Apalachicola (Florida). 

True Bélon oysters come from the eponymous river located in Brittany, France—a label that’s protected by law. Today, some Bélons grow in waters off the Maine coastline, and is relished for its strong seaweed and hazelnut notes with subtle hint of minerals encased in a smooth flat shell.  

As Bélon oysters are limited in number, the voluptuous Gillardeau is a favorite of many high-end restaurants throughout Europe. It has a uniquely chewy and crunchy texture, with the scent of the sea and a soft nutty taste. Though it originates from Marennes, France, it also grows in limited supply in Ireland. 

Fine de Claire
Also mainly cultivated in Marennes, the better-known Fine de Claire has an elongated shell, with a softer-colored flesh that yields a salty and nutty flavor. Each oyster is divided by their maturity into Fine de Claire, Speciale de Claire and Pousse en Claire—the more mature the oyster, the meatier it is.


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