Atlantic Varieties, Pacific Varieties, Oysters in an R-less month, The Taste of an Oyster
Oysters have long been a favourite among connoisseurs of fine food, reputed to have health-giving and aphrodisiac qualities. Oysters were so prized by the Romans that they brought them from England, packing them in snow-covered barrels.
The nutritional value of oysters is well-known, with its prodigious vitamin and mineral content, and including calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, copper, and zinc. Modern science has credited the high levels of zinc in oysters with the aphrodisiac qualities that have been attributed to them, finding zinc to be a contributor to male fertility. The link with love has long been an integral part of oyster lore, from the birth of Aphrodite (i.e. Venus, from the sea on an oyster shell as depicted by Botticelli), observations on its resemblance to female parts, to the reputed daily fare of five dozen oysters consumed by Casanova to sustain virility.
The high mineral content in oysters is derived from the quantity of water that is filtered through an oyster as it feeds, which also imparts the unique regional flavours that oysters achieve from the specific areas in which they grow, apart from the differences due to the species. There are two major species of oysters readily available in Canada: the native Atlantic oyster (Crassostrea Virginica) and the Pacific oyster (C. Gigas), originally from Japan. Oysters from the two major species generally come from the respective coasts and are named for the area in which they have been harvested. The Olympia oyster (Ostrea Lurida), native to the North American west coast, and harvested to virtual extinction, is now being cultivated and are also named for the area in which they grow. Other oysters, such as the Belon (the European flat oyster, O. Edulis, named for its native French river of origin) and the Kumamoto (C. Sikamea, named for the Japanese prefecture in which it was first cultivated), are marketed as a species and are generally not referred to by locale. We sometimes bring in a fifth species, the Rock Oyster (Saccostrea Glomerata), native to Australia and New Zealand, in the summertime.
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Oysters During the R-less Months
The old adage (only eat oysters in months with an R) was good advice in the in the days when refrigeration was unreliable, but is not as relevant today. It still applies, however, with respect to oysters that spawn in the shell, which tend to be thin and tasteless in the months in which they spawn (directing their energies, as is wont, to reproduction rather than self), and to situations in which warm waters prevail and encourage the growth of bacteria which make oysters not good to eat raw.
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