Oyster Types

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Oysters became scarce as early as the 17th century, and are now largely farmed. A handful of the two dozen oyster species are commercially important; they have different shapes and subtly different flavors. European flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) are relatively mild with a metallic taste; Asian cupped oysters (Crassostrea gigas) have melon and cucumber aromas; and Virginia cupped oysters (Crassostrea virginica) smell like green leaves. Though there are exceptions, most oysters produced in Europe are the native flat, “Portuguese,” and Asian; on the east and Gulf coasts of North America, the Virginia; and on the west coast, the Asian and the Pacific (Ostrea lurida). The “Portuguese” oyster is almost certainly a race of the Asian oyster that hitched a ride from China or Taiwan to the Iberian peninsula in the ships of early explorers, four or five centuries ago.