"He was a bold man that first ate an oyster," said Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift.
Given their unique appearance and texture, one can't help but wonder who was brave enough to try oysters for dinner. The truth is that oysters, also known as bivalve mollusks, have been a part of the human diet and adored for their pearls for thousands of years. Scientists even found evidence of humans eating shellfish an estimated 164,000 years ago. They're a great source of protein and contain several key nutrients like calcium, iron, vitamin D, and iodine. Today, dining on oysters is considered a luxury experience. Yet, beyond being lavish meals and pearl jewelry collections, oysters have the potential to play a much bigger role in sustainable agriculture.
Belonging to the Ostreida order, oysters can be found in all four oceans where waters are temperate and warm. Because soft and sandy floors leave them susceptible to being buried, oysters thrive in habitats with hard floors. Within the Ostreida order, there are true oysters and pearl oysters. True oysters are those we tend to find on our dinner plates, while pearl oysters are those that we harvest for pearls. Although all oysters have the ability to create pearls, not all of them create the durable, long-lasting gems we find strung together as necklaces. True oysters can be found all over the world, but within the United States, there are five species that are harvested. Crassostrea Virginicas, or Atlantic Oysters, make up 85% of the harvested oysters in the U.S. They include Blue Point, Wellfleet, Malpeque, and Beausoleil oysters which all live in some parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Across the country, we have three different species. Kumamoto Oysters are found both on the west coast and in Japan. Their sharp and pointy shells are similar to Pacific Oysters, also called Crassostrea Gigas. Pacific Oysters are smaller but are the most cultivated oyster in the world. Within this category includes the Totten Inlet and Fanny Bay oysters. Also on the west coast are Olympia Oysters, which are the size of a quarter and are the only oysters native to the west coast.