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Product Spotlight: Eastern oysters

Buyers play on the regional names of each Eastern oyster harvest area

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By April Forristall
March 01, 2007

In The Art of Eating, M.F.K. Fisher wrote, "A perfect oyster, healthy, of fine flavor, plucked from its chill bed and brought to the plates unwatered and unseasoned, is more delicious than any of its modifications." This has held true since the 1700s, when Boston crawled with more than 30 oyster bars where patrons consumed between 20 to 30 oysters in one sitting.

Today, oysters on the halfshell still hook customers. According to research conducted by Datassential, a Chicago market research firm with a database of more than 350,000 restaurants nationwide, more than 1,900 restaurants in the United States offer an oyster bar, 25 percent of which are seafood restaurants.

Eastern oysters are known for their distinctive, briny flavor and meaty texture. Today, two-thirds of the national oyster harvest is Eastern oysters, at 500 million pounds, in-shell, annually.

Oysters vary in taste, size, shape and color from one grow-out area to the next and often bear the name of the harvest region. For example, the Wellfleet oyster is native to the shallow waters near Wellfleet, Mass., and is known for having a recognizable balance of creamy sweetness and brine.

The Oceanaire, an upscale independent chain with 13 locations nationwide, features a menu that changes daily by "the moods of the sea." Its oyster bar carries Winterport, Island Creek, Wellfleet and Fisher's Island, all referred to on the Oceanaire menu as "heaven served on the halfshell."

The only blemishes in the history of the bivalve are safety concerns evolving from old wives' tales, such as oysters shouldn't be consumed in months spelled without an 'r', and bacteria like Vibrio that, thanks to new processing technologies, for the most part no longer hold water.

Seafood companies like Hillman Shrimp & Oyster, Ameripure Oysters, Motivatit and Tampa Maid can package oysters on the halfshell, meats, breaded oysters, whole oysters and oyster "shooters" year round with a shelf life of up to 18 months.

Greek mythology has it that Aphrodite emerged from the sea on an oyster shell to give birth to Eros, spawning the oysters-as-aphrodisiacs theory. So it's no surprise that while it was indeed, according to Jonathan Swift, "a bold man that first eat an oyster," they are considered one of the most romantic foods throughout the world, making them a popular treat on Valentine's Day.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York has an "aphrodisiac menu" that encourages couples to feed each other a half dozen raw oysters to get in the spirit of the holiday.

However, while high in iron and zinc, which increase blood flow, the psychological suggestion that they provide an erotic boost may be more help to the love life than the actual oyster. So while it is not true that oysters can make people fall in love, this is: A plethora of people are in love with oysters.


Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at aforristall@divcom.com


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