Different types of oysters

Eating raw oysters is a uniquely invigorating experience. No other food conjures up a taste sensation as strongly as an oyster: the essence of the sea in edible form.

However, there is much confusion around the names and types of oyster available on the market. We hope to demystify oysters for you!

1. The native or flat oyster

Back in the last century, the UK used to fish native oysters but severe winter conditions significantly cut back the population. They are still available but are usually more expensive than pacific oysters. The top half of the shell looks smoother and flatter compared to other oysters.

There is a common belief to eat oysters only in the months whose names contain the letter ‘r’. This is true of only native oysters which are available from September to April. Striking off the months May through to August for native oyster eating relates to the summer spawning months. Spawning causes oysters to become fatty, watery and less flavoursome.

2. The pacific or rock oyster

Due to the dwindling stock of the native oyster, in the 1960’s the government introduced the pacific or rock oyster and it is the main variety available today with over 20 million cultivated each year.

You can buy Bigbury Bay Oysters from Salcombe Finest no matter what the month. The reason? Our farm-raised oysters are sterile; the poor little things! Pacific oysters don’t spawn at all thus making prime oysters available year-round.

Oysters feed by filtering water through their system –a single pacific oyster can filter up to 10 litres of water per hour. The flavour of oysters is a function of the minerals, salinity, and the type of algae they eat in the water. Like wine, oysters gain much of their flavour from their terroir (environment).

How to open oysters

Shucking or opening an oyster shouldn’t be a painful task but here are some pointers to help keep your thumbs where they should be:

1. Wrap one hand (usually your left hand) in a tea towel and hold the oyster in it, flat shell facing uppermost, and hinge facing to the right. Push the point of an oyster knife into the hinge, located at the narrowest point.

2. Work the knife back and forth quite forcefully until the hinge breaks and you can slide the knife in between the two shells.

3. Twist the point of the knife upwards to lever up the top shell and locate the ligament that joins the oyster meat to it. It will be slightly right of the centre of the top of the shell. Cut through it with the knife and lift off the top shell. Keep the bottom shell upright so as not to lose any of the juices.

Prior to opening, oyster shells should be closed and, when tapped, should not make a hollow sound. Smell oysters before eating them. If they smell dank, very fishy or rotten, don’t eat them.

How to grow oysters

Oysters grow as nature intended feeding on the naturally occurring phytoplankton and organic detritus from a unique combination of salt and fresh water. The Avon Estuary is one example of this environment and is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in the South West. This is reflected in the quality and excellent flavour of the oysters that are grown in the area.es (160 mm) and females (140 mm).

The oysters are introduced to the estuary at fingernail size and placed in fine mesh bags. As they grow they are hand turned and graded into larger mesh bags. They reach maturity between 2 and 4 years when they are handpicked and cleaned before going through a depuration process for 42 hours. This process uses ultra violet light to kill any bacteria or viruses that may have been present within the oyster.