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Can you eat oysters only in months with ‘R’s? Lowcountry fishermen share the facts about common oyster myths

The Lowcountry is known for delicious oysters, but how much do you know about them? Here are some oyster facts and myths that you may not have known.

 

You can only eat raw oysters in months with the letter R.

MYTH

This is the most widely known and misunderstood oyster myth.

At one point this was a fact, but it is not true anymore.

The R-rule came in to play because the warmer “non-R” months are typically when oysters spawn. The rule allowed wild oysters the chance to spawn so that they could repopulate.

Also, spawning oysters are not very good to eat because they do not taste very good.

This is not an issue these days because of all of the different varieties of oysters that are being grown and harvested.

Some varieties, according to an article from Serious Eats, have been bred not to spawn at all, which allows them to be harvested year-round.

It is important to remember that the warmer water temperatures increase the possibility and prevalence of vibrio vulnificus, which is a bacteria found in raw oysters that can make people sick.

Making sure the oyster is properly cooked is one way to avoid getting sick.

The quality of the oyster is something to keep in mind though.

Andrew Carmines, owner of Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks on Hilton Head Island, says that oysters harvested in “R” months typically taste better than oysters harvested during the warmer months.

“During the winter, metabolism slows real down so that it plumps up. November is the best time. When the fat stores start to deplete, they aren’t as good,” Carmines said.

 

Oysters are an aphrodisiac.

MYTH

In a study done in 2005, scientists found two amino acids in raw mussels that seemed to work with other chemicals inside of rats’ bodies to produce testosterone in the males and progesterone in the females, resulting in an incrusted libido.

The problem, according to an article written about the study in 2005 by the New York Times, was that the findings apply to mussels, not oysters.

If they do help with libido, it’s more than likely a psychological effect, according to Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, in the same article from 2005.

Hudson’s Andrew Carmines disagrees with this, though.

“In my experience, oysters are an aphrodisiac,” Carmines said. “They are a very sexy food.”

 

Raw oysters are alive when you eat them.

TRUTH

Raw oysters are the most common food to eat while it is still alive.

In some cases, the oyster dies as soon as it is shucked, or removed from its shell, but even in those cases the oyster is to be kept alive until just before it is eaten.

It is not safe to eat a dead oyster raw; they need to be cooked.

Heat is the only thing that will kill the harmful bacteria and viruses, according to Safe Oysters.

“Our oysters, because of the tide influence, can live outside of the water for some time,” Carmines said. “When you shuck an oyster, you can tell pretty easily when you cut the abductor muscle from the shell if they are still alive.”

 

Eating oysters is bad for the environment.

MYTH

Oyster are filter feeders that naturally help to clean our water, and oyster reefs are typically known for providing a habitat for marine life.

So is eating oysters harmful to the environment?

According to an article from Serious Eats, about 98 percent of the oysters that are consumed are farm-raised in an environmentally sustainable way.

Oyster aquaculture is much different than other forms of aquaculture because the oysters don’t need to be fed.

They actually eat a food that is commonly a problem for marine life: algae.

“If people harvest oysters in a responsible way, it can bolster the population,” Carmines said. “If you add green shells and do rake downs, we can improve the habitat and increase the number of oysters.”

 

The bigger the oyster, the better it is.

MYTH

The best oysters are not necessarily the biggest.

Larry Toomer, owner of the Bluffton Oyster Co. in Bluffton, makes a point to not keep oysters in his shop for very long.

This is why he goes out and harvests the oysters daily.

Some oyster farms, such as Lady’s Island Oysters, harvest their oysters per order, that way the oysters can continue to grow until right before they are harvested and eaten.

Carmines says that there is an increased demand for smaller oysters.

“Some of smallest oysters pack the biggest flavor,” Carmines said.

Delayna Earley: 843-706-8151

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