According to Wander DeBrito, director of operations of 3 Westerly in Ossining, it’s not the species, but the location/environment that gives oysters their flavor, shape, and texture. Also, oysters are still alive as you eat them! “If you are going to eat an oyster raw, it has to be alive or else it will no longer be safe to eat,” he says.
Widely cultivated in Japan and the U.S. West Coast, Kumamotos spawn in warmer waters than other species, so these are especially enjoyable in summer. DeBrito recommends this oyster for newbies due to their small size (thus easier to swallow) and subtle flavor.
CHARACTERISTICS: Sweet; almost nutty, with a bowl-shaped shell. The cachet of the name itself is a selling point.
Currently, Pacifics are the most cultivated oyster worldwide. They are especially popular in Europe and the U.S. West Coast. Pacific oysters can reach up to a foot in length.
CHARACTERISTICS: Sweet, with finishes that can resemble melon or cucumber; comparatively sharp, jagged, and pointed shells.
The Atlantic offers up 85% of all U.S. oysters, including the most well-known variety, the Blue Point, which hails from Long Island’s Great South Bay, and the Wellfleet, indigenous to Cape Cod’s northeastern waters. Blue Points are commonly a recommended starter oyster, though DeBrito disagrees. “People are reluctant to try oysters due to texture. Blue Points tend to be larger in size, thus harder to swallow and get through for a beginner.”
CHARACTERISTICS: Smoother; less sweet; brinier (LI oysters are milder than the New England Atlantics) and more savory than West Coasters; ridged, tear-drop-shaped shells.
The only oyster indigenous to the U.S. West Coast but also the rarest. Almost eliminated during San Francisco’s Gold Rush, they are a now protected species and cultivated mostly in Puget Sound and British Columbia.
CHARACTERISTICS: Intense “coppery” flavor; most are about the size of a quarter.
European flats include Belons, which come exclusively from the Brittany region of France. Though they have lost some ground to the Pacifics in recent years among Europeans, there are oyster farms in Maine and Washington state that have added flats to their rosters.
CHARACTERISTICS: Smooth, flat shell; sharp, mineral taste; a meaty, almost crunchy, texture.
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