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Gulf of Mexico oysters vs The World

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Living in Texas, I really enjoy Gulf oysters. They're huge! Very tasty too. My local fishmonger, Quality Seafood, recently opened up an oyster bar. $5.95 for a dozen on the half shell, so I've been eating a lot recently.

How do Gulf oysters compare with other breeds? What about health concerns?
post #2 of 7


I've never had a gulf coast oyster but I loved the ones I used to get in the NW. Mostly they are small and the larger gourmet ones being the size of half a palm, the big ones, I'm not sure what kind but they looked like feet! (Long and thinnish)

There is an oyster bar in Seattle that serves you a bakers dozen complete with a menu of the 13 different oysters, their taste characteristics and where they are from. My favorites are kumamoto, small, sweet and delicate.
Penn Cove, a bit more briny with a light cucumber aftertaste. There are a few more but mainly they are fresh tasting, not too big and light.
post #3 of 7
there are three fundamental oysters on the US oyster scene: crassostrea virginica, crassostrea gigas and crassostrea sikamea. they are the east coast oyster, the west coast oyster, and the kumamoto oyster.

we rarely see belon/flat/european oysters, or any of the wonderful little critters that are locally specific to europe or the rest of the world. we see oysters that are either locally abundant or easy to farm. the east coast oyster is really the only native oyster we see in quantity, the gigas and sikamea oysters are both indiginous to japan. a caveat would concede that the west coast "olympia" oyster is also a native species, and is a fourth species that we would see occasionally (seasonally). they are about the size of a nickel and have a unique mustard/caper taste.

All of the "named varieties" of oysters are simply locality specific. A Fanny bay oyster is a west coast oyster (gigas) that comes from (duh) fanny bay...but so does a bay shore oyster...basicly the oyster company picks the name they market with. the flavor differences between oysters of the same variety are rarely profound; a california raised gigas oyster will taste different than an Alaska version of the exact same oyster, but you might have trouble telling the raw meat of one oregon oyster from another. its not that the differences arent there, they just arent really big or easy to quantify.

the variation based on locality is derived from a few different things: water temperature, available food/type of food, salinity, and rearing method.

an oyster from cold water will be sweeter than a warm water counterpart, this is because oysters store emergency energy/fat as a form of sugar. a coldwater oyster stores more emergency energy by percentage for the hard times ahead, so to speak.

usually oyster farms are located where the locally abundant flora can support the oysters. if one group of plankton is more prevelant at one location than another, the oysters are going to taste different. if you feed a pig nothing but delicious acorns, it will taste different than a pig that eats nothing but grass.

the ocean and rivers that oysters are raised in vary in salinity. this is pretty straightforward, i havent noticed a big difference in other flavors based on level of salt in an oyster.

last, the amount of time and method used to rear oysters effects the shell depth, strength, size, and shape. there are several techniques that oyster farms use to effect these variables, most of them regard changing the oyster's depth in the water column depending on its age or time to harvest. the term "beaching" is one method of bringing oysters into the surf from deep water so as to build a more durable shell.

all that said, the gulf coast oyster is a big, fleshy, relatively mild oyster with a flavor probably best described as meaty. some can be eaten with a knife and fork. the gulf coast oyster is crassostrea virginica, the same oyster as the famous blue point. they are definately the fowl of oysters; not particularly flavorful, but great for some things. i can think of few things more sublime than oyster stew or fried oysters, and i would use no other oyster than the east coast oyster for that.

as far as health is concerned, any warmwater "southern" oyster is more likely to contain potentially dangerous level of the oyster bacterium vibrio vulnificans than a colder water northern oyster; which can be fatal, although usually just makes people really sick. The state of California has banned the sale of gulf coast oysters within its borders due to this bacterial problem. i do not know of any other contaminant problems in legally harvested or raised oysters.

as far as my opinion goes, most people are unlikely to get sick from eating oysters. i have eaten probably several thousand in my years in the industry and have never gotten sick. yes, i throw out the stinky dead rotten ones, but thats a whole different dangerous bacteria that causes that. the oyster fishery in the gulf coast is important to the local economies and the gulf coast oyster is pretty tasty. i say, eat more oysters.

post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 
Erik, your essay was astounding. I hope to one day be an oyster connoiseur like yourself. You mentioned "industry", what industry would that be? Are you a chef, a fishmonger or an oyster farmer?

I am less concerned about bacterial contamination as I am about pollutants. The Gulf is reputed to be fairly polluted, though this may no longer be the case. The oysters I consume are usually farmed in Louisiana. I'm particularly concerned because bivalves are filter feeders and have been told that they tend to accumulate industrial chemicals. What do you think?

BTW, do you find the price of $5.95 for a dozen shucked Gulf oysters to be a good deal or not? It is certainly the lowest price I've ever paid, but I usually only go to seafood restaurants for oysters and not dedicated oyster bars.
post #5 of 7
Erik, I really enjoyed your post.

post #6 of 7
sushigaijin: wonderful enlightening post!
our local oyster beds seed with kumimotos. i dont know if this produces hybrids or just adds #s to the harvest? do know a young chuckanut bay oyster is a delicious creature and tastes completely unlike any other oyster. location is everything.
some gulf producers take their chains out to sea for 'polishing'-supposedly this rinses out any toxins the oysters may have ingested nearer the estuaries, on the reasoning that no matter what an oyster has been eating for dinner he completely flushes himself out every twenty-four hours, so taking him out into clean, cold water produces a tastier, safer critter..
post #7 of 7

I would agree that logically filter feeders would accumulate more waste products than other critters, although it is possible that their higher exposure to toxins has resulted in a higher threshold for rejecting toxins. I do know that no commercially available seafood is considered unsafe for the average member of our population, and the unsafe threshold is actually 10x less than the reference dose(minimum toxic amount). that means that no seafood exceeds 1/10 of the unsafe amount of contamination. sounds pretty safe to me.

As far as the numbers go, i am not sure how much contamination is in commercial oysters, but I do know that government routinely tests them. While i dont necessarily trust everything the government says, they do have the most resources and least motivation to cook results; certainly special interest groups on both the environmental side and the big business side will be more biased than the government, for what it is worth.

my background: I have managed a retail specialty fish store for 7 years (45 hrs a week), am a line cook at a good restaurant(30 hrs a week), and teach sushi classes/cater sushi parties/do various personal chefing gigs. I would really like to get to the coasts to visit some of the oyster farms etc, but the curse of the line cook is that they produce great food but can never afford to eat any...

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