Monday, 10 November 2008 | Tags: ,

Oysters are a seafood delicacy with a legendary reputation as a flavourful treat and an aphrodisiac. We taste tested a variety of oysters to see if location and species makes a difference.

The Basics

  • Freshoysters should smell like clean seawater: crisp and briny, not at all fishy. Youcan tell an oyster’s dead if it develops a sulfurous smell.

  • Oysters should be tightly closed when you purchase them. Ifone is a little open, give it a tap. If it slams shut it means theoyster is alive. If it stays open it means that the oyster is dead — don’t eat it.

  • If you tap two oysters together they should sound and feelheavy, like tapping two rocks together. If they sound hollow, move on.

  • The shell should be fully intact with no cracks orbreaks.

  • Avoid oysters with bigpatches of algae or seaweed because that’s an indication they’ve been raised inwaters with poor circulation.

  • There are several species typically consumed:

    • Atlantic: a crisp and briny, easy-to-eat oyster (2-6” long) with an intense hit of fresh, cold sea water and a lightly fishy or mineral flavour. They grow all up and down the east and Gulf coast, many still wild catch.

    • West Coast (Pacific/Japanese): less salty than the Atlantic, these oysters (3-4” long) have a more complex, fruity or sweet flavour often likened to cucumber or watermelon. Most are cultivated on private farms.

    • Olympia: also a Pacific oyster, Olympia (1-2” long) has a mild mineral and salt taste and is found mostly in waters around Washington state.

    • Kumomoto: A rich, buttery oyster with a slightly less salty taste. It comes from an area in Japan but is also found in the Pacific Northwest and has a distinctive black, frilly shell.

    • European Flats: Considered the most complex-tasting oyster, this flat, near-round species has a challenging flavour that starts out crisp and briny, and ends metallic in character.

Other Considerations

  • Our host at Fanny Bay Oyster Farm taught us a good way to get into the shell: insert your shucking tool at the 2 o’clock position (6 o’clock being the heel of the shell).

  • Oysters have long been thought to be an aphrodisiac, but they also have many health benefits, including being high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and many vitamins and minerals.

  • They are also low in mercury but may contain biotoxins so always be sure to purchase them from a reliable source.

Enjoying Raw Oysters

If you eat raw, there are a number of ways to ensure freshness:

  • Make sure the shell is tightly closed, which means it is alive.

  • If you hear a hollow sound when you tap two together, one or both may be dead.

  • If they smell fishy or like sulfur don’t eat them.

  • A fresh oyster should be slick, not slimy.

  • Do not eat pre-shucked oysters raw.

  • Ask to see the date tag that comes from the oyster farm; it shouldn’t be more than a few days old.

  • Make sure the oysters have been kept in cool salt water and on ice to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

How to Eat Cooked Oysters

  • Cooking eliminates bacteria, and doesn’t affect the oyster’s other nutritional qualities, which include zinc, calcium, iodine and copper.

  • Heat slowly and don’t overcook. Once the mantle starts to curl upward, it’s done.

  • Don’t cook an expensive variety since many of the raw taste subtleties are lost by cooking and seasoning.


We visited Fanny Bay Oyster Farm on Vancouver Island and taste tested some of their own stock, as well as others from around the world. We tested:

  • South lake (Cape Breton)
  • Village Bay (New Brunswick)
  • Fanny Bay (BC)
  • Kumomoto (Washington State)
  • Eurpean Flats (A European import raised in Lund, BC)

Taste Test

  • The South Lake oysters were slightly salty yet mild compared to the others.

  • The Village Bay were small and also on the mild side, without a strong fishy taste.

  • The Fanny Bay oysters had a stronger flavour than the South Lake and Village Bay, but still pleasant, with a cucumber-y aftertaste.

  • We think you need to acquire a taste for the price as well as the texture and flavour of the Kumomoto, which was a fishy with a lingering metallic aftertaste.

  • We didn’t like the European Flats oysters at all. They were quite large with a very strong, metallic taste.


We both liked the East Coast oysters, particularly the Village Bay, however we’re not oyster eaters. The Fanny Bay oyster also had good flavour, and that’s the one we chose for our oyster pie recipe.

Oysters are somewhat of an acquired taste, so if you enjoy shellfish, don’t be afraid to explore different oyster species to find one you really like.

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