Oysters are one of Europe’s delicatessen par excellence and have been bred in aquacultures for 2,500 years. Once they were considered poor people’s food, today they are luxury delicatessen. Eating oysters is not only chic, but also healthy. However, there are a few rules to follow.
The oyster is a real delicacy, a long-lasting favourite, because it was already on the table in ancient times. The Greeks associated the oyster with their goddess of love and attributed an aphrodisiac effect to her. The Romans also appreciated the oyster: Julius Caesar was a great fan and Emperor Vitellus is said to have devoured as many as 1,000 pieces at a banquet.
In the Middle Ages the oyster was a cheap food for everyone in coastal regions, but in aristocratic circles it was considered a precious delicacy. Its popularity remained unbroken until modern times, when industrialization and the resulting increasing pollution of the waters put an end to its consumption.
In England, consumption in the 20th century was close to zero, as poisoning occurred again and again. It was not until 1993 that an EU regulation on oyster hygiene was issued. The French got the problem under control more quickly and already in 1939 banned breeding in heavily polluted waters. Therefore, demand in France is still very high today, while in other European countries most people have never tried an oyster.
A closer look at the most important facts and myths
Oysters are expensive
Since oyster stocks in Europe have shrunk significantly in recent years, their consumption has become an expensive pleasure. At the latest since the oyster disease of 2008, which decimated French stocks in particular, prices have soared. The price of the oyster depends on its quality and size. By the way: the smaller the number, the bigger the oyster. A no. 2 is therefore larger than a no. 3.
Oysters are eaten raw
Thus they are known throughout Europe as a delicacy. Their freshness plays a decisive role. Oysters should still be closed when you buy them or close up again when you knock them against their shells. Closed oysters can be kept cool in seawater for three to four days, but they are best consumed on the day of purchase. In Asia, where the oyster stocks are considerably larger and they are therefore consumed in much larger quantities, the mussels are cooked in principle, by the way.
Oysters are healthy
The oyster contains many vitamins and minerals, but hardly any fat and carbohydrates. As it has a low caloric value, it is hardly satiating and is therefore popular as a starter. The oyster is even said to have an aphrodisiacal effect and Casanova himself recommended the consumption of 50 pieces a day to strengthen virility. However, this is not scientifically proven.
Oysters appear in different quality
The standard quality is Fines de claire; Spéciales de claire are considered by connoisseurs to be particularly delicate due to their pure taste; Huîtres sauvages are large oysters that are more suitable for cooking; Marennes-Oléron from French Atlantic cuisine is considered to be above average. Gillardeau, Belon and Pied de cheval belong to the crème de la crème of oysters.
Oysters come not only from France
88 percent of all European oysters come from France. In the meantime, however, goods from other growing regions have also made a name for themselves. Because of the clean water on its coasts, Ireland is the second largest European producer, followed by Great Britain. Quantitatively large producers are the USA and Canada. However, the lion’s share of the annual oyster production of around four million tons is supplied by China, with a world market share of over 80 percent.
You should not eat oysters in summer
This is a myth that should not have been considered for a long time. But in fact there is something to the claim: oysters spawn in summer and become milky during this time. The consistency of the flesh also changes. However, the so-called spawn is excreted after a few days and the affected oysters serve as a delicacy again. A renowned dealer should not make the mistake of offering spawning oysters any more. Nevertheless, purchasing from a specialist is of course recommended.
The insufficient cold chain is also often mentioned as an argument against consuming oysters in summer. But even this circumstance belongs to the past. Nowadays one can assume with a clear conscience that the oysters in the local fish counters have been cooled accordingly – even during the entire transport period.