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 Oyster Facts

Picture of oysters. Click to enlarge. Copyright David Marks.
Click picture to enlarge

Oysters have been cultivated in the UK for over 2000 years. Our oysters were imported into Italy by the Romans where they fattened them up on a variety of ingredients including of all things wine!

There are health considerations with eating oysters so read on to find out more about this and other oyster facts. Did you know that oysters from cooler areas are tastier than those from warmer areas?

Varieties of Oysters
The taste of uncooked oysters varies greatly not only dependant on their variety but also the conditions in which they are grown. Mineral content of the water, the concentration of salt and the temperature of the water are major factors in their taste.


It's widely accepted that oysters grown in cooler areas (such as the UK, Finland and Norway) have the best flavour when eaten raw. This difference in taste disappears almost totally when oysters are cooked. The cooking process evens out the salt and mineral content leaving different oysters tasting much the same.

There are four main species of oysters:

Ostrea edulis Found in European waters including the UK. The tastiest oysters, these are the right size to eat raw off the half shell. This species includes the well known UK and Irish varieties Galway and Whistable.

Crassostrea virginica  Found in around Canada, US and Mexican coastal waters. The shells are around 1 to 2 cm (2 to 5 inches) long.

Crassostrea Gigas Found in Pacific Ocean waters. These produce very large oysters and are usually cooked.

Ostrea lurida Found in the West Coast waters of the US. Small and reasonably tasty.

Health Implications Of Eating Raw Oysters
Let's put this in perspective, millions of people eat raw oysters every year and they suffer no side-effects. In the UK, health laws normally protect the public from bad oysters.

One known condition from eating raw oysters is Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. This is normally contracted from eating oysters which have been taken from contaminated waters. There are other serious health dangers. Beware - clear, fresh-looking waters can be contaminated.

The bottom line is that you are more likely to suffer injury from gardening than eating raw oysters from your local supermarket, but the risk is there. If you have any existing health conditions, check with your doctor before eating raw oysters. If you harvest oysters on your own then you are on your own!

Storing Oysters
Picture of oysters. Click picture to enlarge. Picture courtesy http://www.abileah.com/Friends&Family/2003%20Hood%20Canal%20Oyster%20Weekend/Hood%20Canal%20Oyster%20Weekend%202003.htmLive oysters should always be stored in the shell. Place them large shell down, in an open container covered with a damp cloth in the refrigerator. They can be kept for up to three days in this way. Do not seal live oysters in an airtight container, they will not be able to breathe and will die causing them to be inedible in a very short time. Never freeze live oysters.

Smoked, canned oysters are great for appetizers. Canned oysters will have an expiration date on the packaging and should not be stroed longer than this date.

Frozen raw oysters will keep in a standard UK freezer for up to three months. They should be thawed in the refrigerator and then used as fresh oysters for cooking.

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