Thursday, September 20, 2012

5 Things You Didn't Know About Oysters

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:45 AM

click to enlarge LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata

I was an adult when I had my first oyster, though at 22 I was barely one. A local restaurant offered 50 cent oysters during weekday happy hours, and my friends and I started going because it made us feel like sophisticated high-rollers despite the fact that we were desperately broke (I couldn't even afford a glass of wine to go with them). But those first experiences awakened a lifelong love affair for the slimy bivalves, and I continue to seek them out at every opportunity. Especially Sweetwaters from Hog Island Oyster Co., the subject of this week's full review.

See Also:

- Hog Island Oyster Co.: Fresh Oysters Par Excellence, Not Much Else

- Oyster Species Guide

- Does it Make Sense for Vegans to Eat Oysters?

The more I write and learn about oysters, the more fascinating they become. Here are some of my favorite tidbits from my research over the years:

1. They taste like the place they come from.

You know how there are like a million different types of oysters at raw bars? There are actually only five edible oyster species (Pacific, Kumamoto, Olympia, European Flat, and Eastern) but their flavor varies so much depending on the place they're grown -- the merroir, as oyster nerds like to call it -- that a Pacific oyster from California can taste entirely different than a Pacific oyster from Washington. That's also why oysters are so often named after the geographic region where they're farmed. Except the Naked Cowboy, which is still my favorite name for an oyster ever.

2. The whole "months that end in R" thing is a myth.

Oysters spawn during the summer when the water temperatures are warmer, so the idea that you needed to avoid oysters in months that didn't end in the letter "R" was a handy bit of folk wisdom to keep people from getting sick in the days before refrigeration. These days, though, farmed oysters make up about 95 percent of the world's oyster consumption, and thanks to the wonders of technology, we can enjoy oysters year-round.

3. San Francisco Bay used to be coated with them.

In fact, the whole West Coast was blanketed with the tiny Olympia, the only oyster native to the Pacific west coast. But then the Gold Rush happened, and the local oysters that weren't consumed by hungry Easterners who'd come here to strike it rich were killed off by the silt runoff from the American river. Now they only exist in pockets in Washington and British Columbia. (For more on the Olympia, I highly recommend The Living Shore, food and environmental writer Rowan Jacobsen's slim volume about a quest for the oysters in B.C.)

4. They're great for the ecosystem.

Oysters are nature's water filters -- they filter the water around them for phytoplankton, and then pump it out cleaner. That's why they're so susceptible to pollutants, because they're essentially taking in poison along with nutrients. Oysters also stick to the same beds over generations, and their calcified shells form an aquatic apartment building for little sea creatures, which in turn feed growing salmon and other fish.

5. You can farm your own.

Out at Pickleweed Point on Tomales Bay, not far from Hog Island Oyster Co., aquaculturist Luc Chamberlain has opened a community oyster farm -- think of it like a pea patch of the sea. Community members pony up $100 and have the pleasure of raising their very own oysters from larvae to adulthood. The farm has also schooled local youth on the oyster farming process, which sounds like the best field trip ever. Interested would-be aquafarmers or visitors should check out the Facebook page.

Follow us on Twitter at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook. Follow me at @annaroth.

  • Pin It

Tags: , ,

About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.