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Appreciating oysters: a beginner’s guide

Some flavours in life are immediate pleasures. 

The taste of a frozen coke by the beach, a lick of cold ice cream on a balmy summer’s afternoon and the sweetness of a velvety smooth hot chocolate during the cold wintry months. These are flavours that come straight to the mind, no prompt needed.

Oysters, on the other hand, belong to another category. The joy of savouring them is an acquired taste: the slippery, briny morsels swimming in oyster liquor, hiding within a clasped shell can be a divisive dish. 

Indeed, oysters have slowly become the food of choice for many, with an increasing number of oyster bars popping up across the city. Other than its unique textures and tastes, oysters are also sought after for its aphrodisiac qualities. 

There are so many things to learn about this expensive shellfish. In this guide, we’ll be diving into the different kinds of oyster varieties, and what you should look out for when savouring this delectable treat.

Oyster species and regions

oysters guide
(Image courtesy of Aime Cox-Tennant on Unsplash)

Similar to wine and cheese, oysters convey a taste of its place. As filter feeders, they take in almost 200 litres of water a day, rich with minerals, phytoplankton and salt, which means when you taste an oyster in its brine, you also get a peek into its specific maritime world. 

While there are hundreds of varieties of oysters, there are five main species to take note of. 

Atlantic oysters

Atlantic oysters are native to America, and are found along the Atlantic Ocean down to the Gulf of Mexico. They are usually bigger than other varieties and come with a slight metallic aftertaste.

Olympia oysters

Olympia oysters are smaller in size and are almost extinct, making it the least common type of oyster found in Singapore. 

Pacific oysters

Pacific oysters are sometimes called Miyagi, and are native to the Pacific coast of Asia. They have are also an introduced species in North America, Australia, Europe, and New Zealand, so there are farms there that do produce them now as well. In terms of flavour and texture, tend to be on meatier and creamier side of tastes.   

Kumamoto Oysters

Known as the ‘Chardonnay of oysters’, Kumamoto oysters are one of most well-liked varieties among beginner oyster eaters. The briny morsels are small, but taste a lot sweeter and lighter compared to the other varieties.  

European Flat Oysters

These oysters get their namesake from the outer shell, flat with a little cup and their European origins. They are often large in terms of size, with a very distinct taste profile: it comes with rich notes of salt, with a brief sweetness at the end.

How to enjoy oysters

oysters guide
(Image courtesy of Ben Libby on Unsplash)

More often than not, oysters will be served with a variety of condiments. The most common ones include lemon wedges, hot sauce, or a mignonette sauce. As a rule of thumb, a single serving is half a dozen oysters, so you can take your time to figure out which condiments you prefer.

In case you’re wondering, the pool of natural juice that your oysters come with should not be thrown away or neglected: it is one of the most precious and flavoursome parts of the oyster, which is also why it’s commonly referred to as oyster liquor.

Drinks to pair them with 

oysters guide
(Image courtesy of Євгенія Височина on Unsplash)

The saltiness of the oysters, means they tend to go well with wines that showcase minerality like Chardonnay and the Sauvignon blanc. Dry wines like Muscadet are a popular pairing too, followed by champagne. However, if you are consuming cooked oysters, go for some sparkling wine.

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Header image courtesy of Viktoriia Syzova on Unsplash
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