The Humble Oyster
You may either love them or hate them, but there are probably a few things you don’t know about this tasty, slimy and expensive seafood. If you are a pregnant woman, it is good to know that you are not meant to eat raw oysters – cooked oysters are still ok.
Oysters are certainly good for your health and rich in zinc, which is great for making you feel good and keeping up your energy. Zinc is also the reason the humble oyster is known worldwide as an aphrodisiac. It has other benefits too, it enhances your immune system, helps get rid of acne, eases rashes and even makes your bones stronger.
While there are over a hundred acknowledged varieties of oyster, these come from only five species; Pacific Oysters (or Japanese Oyster), Kumamoto Oysters, European Flat Oysters, Atlantic Oysters and Olympia Oysters.
Of these, it is the Atlantic species which is celebrated in Galway. This looks like a comma or tear drop and tends to be on the larger side. The European Flat has a large, straight shell with fine ridges but the Pacific Oysters are smaller with wavy casings. Kumamotos are also smaller, and the shell is rounder and pale, which is similar to the Olympias oyster, though this one has a smoother shell with a bit of iridescent coloring.
It is a little known fact that the humble oyster filters about 30 to 50 gallons of water a day. This makes these little creatures not only tasty but good for the environment too.
Also take note. The oysters that we eat don’t actually make these precious gemstones so we can abandon our hopes of popping open a shell to discover a precious pearl. While the edible oysters belong to the family ostreidae, pearl oysters, or pinctada, are members of the pteriidae family.
There is a saying not to eat an oysters in months that don’t have an r letter (May, June, July and August) – this is because prior to the coming of refrigeration, it was harder to keep them cold in the heat. Another reason is that in the summer months the bivalves are spawning and this gives them a weak and watery flavour. During the winter months, when the water is nice and cold, these molluscs really thrive.
In Galway the care of oysters continues as it has for hundreds if not thousands of years. The Kelly family (www.kellyoysters.com) ensure a sustainable supply of oysters through careful stewardship of their beds without the need to farm intensively. Indeed, with a lineage that can be traced over 1000 years to the first kings of Connacht, the Kelly’s long and proud connection to the sea and land is perhaps why they have a complete understanding and affinity with this part of Ireland and the fine oysters that grow so well here.
The Native Oyster is the gourmet’s favourite, also known as the European Flat Oyster, this is the oyster which is Native to our Irish shores. Native Oysters are considered to be a great luxury due to their wonderful flavour and due to the fact that they are a relatively scarce species. The Atlantic gushes into the harbour twice daily mixing with the rich fresh waters from the Clarinbridge and Kilcolgan rivers which gives just the right mix of water and an fabulous flavour. Then the oysters themselves filter up to 11 litres of this pristine water every hour. These Galway oysters take four to five years to grow to edible maturity. You may indeed believe you hold in your mouth the very essence of the ocean.