Oysters on the Menu: Nutrition and Safety

Getting Started

Did you know?

A true oyster connoisseur knows that oysters from different places have different flavors. The species has very little to do with the flavor – it’s all about location, location, location. Since oysters are filter feeders, the saltiness of the water and types of phytoplankton and algae the oysters eat determine their flavor.

There’s even a word for oyster flavor-by-place: merior (pronounced “mare-wär”). It’s a play on the French term terrior, which describes the flavor wines have from the place the grapes were grown. It’s also a fun piece of trivia for every budding ostreaphile!

Nutritious and Delicious

Oysters have been a favorite seafood worldwide for hundreds of years. Whether served raw on the half shell, grilled, fried, or baked, plump, briny oysters are a delicious addition to the menu. Fortunately for oyster lovers, these mollusks aren’t just tasty — they’re also nutritious. A single 3.5-ounce serving of eastern oysters has only 68 calories and 3 grams of fat, but packs in 7 grams of protein and 100% of your daily requirements for vitamin B12, zinc, and copper. They’re also a great source of selenium, vitamin D, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (source).

See our Recipe page for meal ideas.

What to Look for in an Oyster

Simply put, the fresher the better. Fresh oysters have a slightly sweet, salty smell. If you’re purchasing a freshly shucked oyster, look for firm, plump meat that is solid in color. There should be a creamy liquid inside the shell; this liquor carries much of the oyster’s flavor.

Oysters are often sold live in whole shells. Choose oysters that are closed and don’t have any chips or cracks. If you’re looking for a meatier oyster, pay attention to the cup — the concave side of the shell. A deeper cup typically means the oyster will have more meat. You can check for dehydration by holding the oyster to your ear and tapping it. If you hear a hollow sound, throw it out. To make sure that the oyster is actually alive, check that the shell is tightly closed. If the shell is slightly open, tap it lightly. If the oyster snaps shut, it’s still alive and good to eat. Toss out the dead ones. You can refrigerate live oysters under a damp cloth for up to 10 days.

Debunking Oyster Myths

Should you only eat oysters in months that end with “R”?

You may have heard that you should only eat oysters in “R” months (November, December, etc.). That pervasive myth dates back over 400 years to an English cookbook called “Dyets Dry Diner,” published in 1599. In fairness to the author, Henry Buttes, the advice was sound at the time. Before refrigeration and modern farming methods, hot weather did lead to bad oysters. First, oysters spawn in summer, meaning the oysters devote most of their energy to producing eggs and sperm, so their body mass dwindles and meat becomes thin and watery. Second, without refrigeration, spoilage and disease was a big risk. However, today’s farming methods have made it possible to enjoy oysters year round. Most oyster farmers grow triploid oysters, which cannot reproduce, so they continue to devote their energy to growth instead of reproduction throughout the summer, continuously producing the plump, juicy oysters that connoisseurs know and love. Moreover, commercial oyster producers will immediately cool oysters to 45 degrees, keeping oysters cool from harvest to the restaurant. The unbroken chain of refrigeration helps ensure that people eating oysters do not get sick from bacteria such as vibrio.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises that people with compromised immune systems (such as people with HIV) or chronic liver disease should not eat raw oysters as an added safety precaution. See our recipes section for some great cooked oyster suggestions.

Are oysters an aphrodisiac?

Nope, sorry. There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that oysters have any such effects. That being said, an oyster bar is a great place for a date!

Will hot sauce kill bacteria on an oyster?

Dousing an oyster with hot sauce may taste great, but it is no more effective at killing bacteria than splashing your oysters with water. The only way to kill bacteria is through cooking at a high enough temperature. If you’re planning to enjoy raw oysters, make sure to get them from a reputable restaurant or supplier, and if you’re worried about it, toss those oysters on a grill, oven, or in a fry pan for a delicious meal.