You might know the best months to buy oysters from this oft-repeated rule: “Only eat oysters in months that have the letter “R” in their names.” This rule urges customers to buy oysters September through April, and makes May through August appear to be void of quality oysters.
However, the “R” month rule is no longer true! There was actually a point in time when it made perfect sense: when oysters were exclusively wild-caught, and before access to refrigeration became the norm.
Oysters reproduce in the warmer summer months, so harvesting wild oysters during that time would have decimated oyster populations. Additionally, a chemical reaction happens in that season that makes the oysters able to reproduce, but causes them to be soft and odd-smelling.
Fishers who would store their oyster catch on the docks found that the shelled creatures fared better in colder temperatures than sweating it out in warmer temperatures, so sales were increased in colder months anyways.
Now, with proper storage and the widespread technique of farming oysters, the delicious bivalve is available year-round.
So… What Exactly Happened?
Fishers have developed best practices regarding oyster fishing, which means that year-round oyster farming in cold, northern waters is now the norm. Although oyster farming does occur in warm waters, the taste is different, and temperature increases during the summer months can inhibit fishing.
The whole process is simply smoother now, with increased monitoring and better accountability. Farmed oysters make up most market oysters today, and their quality is actually higher. With farming comes the opportunity for more involvement, observation, and regulation. A farmed oyster is typically both the safer and more delicious option.
The availability of farmed oysters means that customers are no longer restricted to specific months to buy oysters.
Tips for Buying Oysters
That being said, oysters do taste different during different seasons. They start eating algae during the spring months and slow way down during the winter, making late fall a delicious time to eat oysters. September through November are particularly great months to buy oysters, for the taste alone!
Location also matters when it comes to oysters’ flavor. Some fishers describe the Atlantic oyster as more briny in flavor, while Pacific oysters are a bit sweeter. Cold water is said to make oysters’ flavor more crisp.
Rowan Jacobsen, the author of A Geography of Oysters, says that a good rule of thumb for the best months to buy oysters is still to “follow the frost line.” Oysters simply taste better when they come from cold water.
Live Oyster Prices
|Fulton Fish Market
Quick Run-down for Buying & Storing Oysters
- Know your sources– the oyster industry is required by law to be super transparent, each oyster is labelled with the date and place of its harvest.
- Buy heavy oysters, and make sure they are fully closed.
- Keep raw oysters refrigerated in a bowl and covered with a damp cloth.
- Eat fresh oysters within a week during the summer and within 10 days during the winter.
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