Fabulous Oyster Facts

Learn from local oyster growers, culinary experts, environmental stewards, oyster lovers, and locals - our bivalves are bonafide beautiful.

Local oyster farmers proudly carry on a long tradition of oyster cultivation. The fossil record tells us that oysters as we generally know them are roughly 25 million years old, and we modernish humans distinguished ourselves around 160,000 years ago.  Ancient shell middens (mounds of discarded oyster shells) tell the story of a relationship we made with the oyster dating back to our own beginnings.  At first we foraged and collected the delectable morsels from the shoreline and snacked on the “brain food” that many anthropologists postulate gave rise to dramatic mental development of our species.  We developed rituals around the harvest and integrated the bounty into our societal traditions.  Oysters became important enough to us to ensure that we had a regular supply.  Enter the farmer.  Working with the rules and rhythms of nature the early civilizations of Japan, China and Europe (namely Greece and Rome)  tried their hand at the propagation and husbandry of the oyster.  Much of the technology has changed in 4000 years.  But much has not. Nor has our passion for the oyster.

After our lovely bivalves are devoured, their next life begins – oyster shells have many uses. Tibora and Corin at SCRAP Humboldt used shells to make us some cool Oyster Calling Contest participation necklaces. But the shells can also be used for landscaping purposes, calcium and soil acidity adjusting for gardens, and as a chemical-free underground pest deterrent when placed in holes before planting. Crushed shells are also used for animal and poultry feed, and human medicinal purposes. Crafty folks have used them for all kinds of decorating projects, and different types of oysters offer a variety of beautiful shells.

You all know our OysterFest MC Stir Fry Willie / Fred Oystaire. This phrase, coined by William Shakespeare and first appears in his play The Merry Wives Of Windsor, seems to fit him like a tux! At least our modern interpretation of it… Falstaff: I will not lend thee a penny. Pistol: Why then the world’s mine oyster Which I with sword will open. Falstaff: Not a penny. The original implication of the phrase is that Pistol is going to use violent means (sword) to steal his fortune (the pearl one finds in an oyster). We inherit the phrase, absent its original violent connotation, to mean that the world is ours to enjoy. And that is surely what we do with oysters and Oyster Fest!

Greg Dale runs Coast Seafoods with Pacific Oyster Company – a major Oyster Fest sponsor, oyster grower, and prominent advocate for a healthy, productive bay (and Bob Dylan fan!). Humboldt Bay is known for its high quality water and shellfish, and thus has become known as the Oyster Capitol of California. Oyster growers’ water quality is closely regulated by the a federal program that is administered by the state. He also points out that the Humboldt Bay shellfish industry, which is currently worth about $8-10 million annually, current employs about 100 people. Oysters are also a great food – delicious, local and nutritious. The nutritional stats for 6 raw oysters: Calories: 57, Protein: 5.9g, Carbohydrate: 3.3g, Total fat: 2.1g, Zinc: 76mcg, B12: 16.3mcg. And that folks, is the inside scoop.

Dan Tangney – Arcata Main Street board member and Oyster Fest veteran. The Oyster Cocktail or Oyster Shooter, a popular West Coast treat, originated in a San Francisco restaurant around 1860 by a miner back from the gold fields. The miner was loaded down with gold nugget bigger than ballpark peanuts. Being hungry, the miner asked on the the restaurant’s waiters to bring him a plate of California raw oysters with some ketchup, horseradish, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and a whiskey cocktail. After drinking the whiskey, he put the oysters into the goblet, adding salt and pepper, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and ketchup. The restaurant keeper looked on with interest. “What sort of mess do you call that, partner?” he asked. The miner responded, “That is what I call an oyster cocktail.” The next day a sign appeared in the restaurant’s front window: OYSTER COCKTAIL – FOUR BITS PER GLASS. Within a week, every restaurant in San Francisco was serving the new dish. Oysters were popular with the gold miners because most of the miners thought that rich people always ate oysters. They figured that what was good enough for the rich swells back East was certainly good enough for them! During the gold rush era, there was a great demand for oysters in San Francisco, and stories were told of oysters being paid for with gold. -What’s Cooking America

Humboldt Bay Harbor Commissioner and Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Candidate Mike Wilson. You know how there are like a million different types of oysters at raw bars? There are actually only five edible oyster species (Pacific, Kumamoto, Olympia, European Flat, and Eastern) but their flavor varies so much depending on the place they’re grown — the merroir, as oyster nerds like to call it — that a Pacific oyster from California can taste entirely different than a Pacific oyster from Washington. That’s also why oysters are so often named after the geographic region where they’re farmed. -Anna Roth

Just ask Nancy Stevens, she knows. Oysters are great for the ecosystem — they filter the water around them for phytoplankton, and then pump it out cleaner. That’s why they’re so susceptible to pollutants, because they’re essentially taking in poison along with nutrients. Oysters also stick to the same beds over generations, and their calcified shells form an aquatic apartment building for little sea creatures, which in turn feed growing salmon and other fish. This is all good for Humboldt Bay!

Caterer & Chef Brett Shuler of Arcata says, “raw, fried, or on the half shell, oysters can provide you with a host of health benefits, among them, high levels of heart- and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids and … enough zinc (the aphrodisiac mineral) to keep your mojo flowing all night.” (ok, we added that last part, but there is some truth to it!)

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Brenna Schlagenhauf of Hog Island Oyster Company shared a “sexy” fact about oysters: “All oysters start off life as a male, but they are hermaphroditic and after one year can change to females. Within 3 years, 90% of oysters are female, so you can usually tell the gender of an oyster by the size: small ones are males, and large ones are females. An oyster cannot be male and female at the same time.” Who knew??!