It is still not known as to when people first started eating oysters. Most likely, humans witnessed an animal such as an otter happily opening and eating what at first glance, looked like a rock. Whatever the origins, people have valued oysters as a food source since recorded history.
Like wine lovers, oyster aficionados have developed their own culture. The particular region an oyster is cultivated from or farmed in, imparts flavor distinctions on the oyster. Differences in water quality, the nutrient composition and sediments found in the oysters’ environment give them different tastes. So, the region or “terrior” the oysters come from is of importance to oyster fanatics. Oysters are therefore named by the region from which they come. Having said that, oysters are of three types. These are: the flat or European, Pacific and finally Virginica also known as Atlantic or Eastern oyster. Pacific and Virginica are the most common oyster found on menus around the world.
Atlantic oysters are found in South Africa, the western coast of the Atlantic, that is, stretching from North America to South America and are renowned for their delicate taste. In South Africa, a country bordered by both the Atlantic and the Indian oceans, the oyster is cultivated in sheltered bays of Knysna lagoon and Saldanha bay. This is the most commonly cultivated oysters in the world and this is because it grows relatively quickly, reaching an edible size in two years. Oysters are often grown alongside mussels. Both species of bivalve are filter feeders that remove phytoplankton from sea water and convert it to edible protein.
The local South African oyster growing industry is poised for growth as it begins to supply international markets, particularly those in China. The industry has the advantage of producing oysters in peak condition during the northern hemisphere winter. Pacific oysters are often larger and have rougher shells, allowing them to thrive in colder Pacific waters. Pacific oysters have a creamier taste that is more mineral than salty. Kumamoto oysters are a popular example. They have a buttery finish and are a good “beginners” oyster because of their small size and mild taste. Steamboat oysters are another Pacific variety.
Oysters are prized for their salty succulent flesh and are served as a sea food delicacy around the world. Oyster shells are tough to open and the skill of opening an oyster known as “shucking” is an art form. This skill only comes into play if you want to enjoy oysters raw or “on the half shell” as cooking oysters would cause them to open naturally. If a cooked oyster does not open, please do away with it, because it is most likely spoilt. To open an oyster for raw consumption you need an oyster knife and an oyster glove. Never use a sharp tip knife to open an oyster as they can easily slip or brake and could cause you to injure yourself. This is where gloves come in handy.
Now, hold the oyster with the curved side down and hinge pointed towards you. Insert the knife near the hinge between the two shell halves. Rock the knife slightly, side to side as you push in. work the tip of the knife into the oyster about half an inch. Twist the knife handle to pop the oyster open. Next, slice the tissue that connects the oyster to the top shell. After opening the top shell, cut the oyster from bottom cup. Try not to mangle the oyster and flip it over in the curved half of the shell to make it look nice.
Particularly prized by South African, Greek and Roman cultures, oysters are exceptionally rich in nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates. Oysters are a great source of vitamins A, B [1, 2 and 3] and C. Eating half a dozen of oysters daily gives you a daily dose of many essential minerals as well including: calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium and zinc. Oysters are also believed to be powerful aphrodisiacs. Oysters are served in various ways. The oyster stew is very popular. There is also the oyster cocktail and it could also be served fried as an entrée. So, eat oysters to love better, look younger and live longer.