6 Surprising Facts about Oysters

Oysters are under threat, but follow these tips to help protect them and enjoy their amazing benefits, too.

March 1, 2012
We should all appreciate oysters.

Whether you love them 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. Though farmed oysters are one of the most sustainable seafood options out there, more than 85 percent of the world's wild oyster reefs have been lost.

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Invasive species such as Atlantic coast crabs and snails are decimating oyster reefs off the California coast, and farm runoff from the Midwest is harming wild oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico. Topping it off, climate change has increased the acidification of ocean waters, which in turn weakens oysters' shells causing them to die off. Here are six reasons we need to save wild oysters--and other reasons they're good for you!

Oysters really are an aphrodisiac.

Sometimes. Maybe. Very few scientific studies have shown that oysters can actually raise your sexual desire, but they still could help spur it on. Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food; zinc is a key mineral for sexual health in men, and severe cases of zinc deficiency can lead to impotence. However, it's more likely that oysters could raise your libido by the power of suggestion, much like peaches, alcohol, chocolate, or any other food with a desire-boosting rep.

Read More: 23 Natural Sources for 4 Important Minerals

Oysters are good for your garden.

Oyster shells are high in calcium, which benefits your garden soil. Calcium not only balances the soil's pH, it's also a vital nutrient that strengthens cell walls, leading to stronger, healthier plants. You can buy ground oyster shell lime from garden stores, or you can just crush the shells left over from your next oyster bake and add them to your compost pile.

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Saving oysters could save your house—or at least your dinner.

One of the many environmental benefits of wild oyster reefs is increased protection against soil erosion. Reefs stabilize ocean shorelines, making them less susceptible to damage by hurricanes and strong storms. Being filter feeders, wild oysters also remove bacteria, sediments, and even oil spills from waterways, making oyster reefs cleaner habitats for shrimp, clams, snails, and crabs, and the improved water quality encourages seagrass growth, which creates better habitats for fish.

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It's OK to eat oysters in "non-R" months.

In his book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (Random House, 2007), Mark Kurlansky writes that the "don't eat oysters in months without R's in them" rule was true for a while, in part because it was hard to keep them from spoiling in hot weather before modern refrigeration was invented. But, he adds, oyster-lovers also noticed that oysters tasted best in cooler months because spawning, which takes place in May, June, July, and August, makes oysters translucent, thin, and less tasty. That still holds true today, although modern oyster-farming techniques are starting to work around flavor issues.

Bottom line: Enjoy oysters whatever month you're in, but expect peak flavor outside of spring and summer.

Read More: Quick, Tasty Recipes for Cooking Shellfish

Farmed oysters are a better choice than wild.

Unlike some fish-farming operations, which can allow nonnative species to escape into surrounding ecosystems and spread disease, oyster farms can actually improve the quality of oceans and bays. That's because the oysters in offshore farms will feed on particulate matter and nutrients that might otherwise pollute waterways. So favor farmed oysters when shopping; you'll also avoid depleting wild populations at risk from by those invasive crabs and snails.

Read More: 12 Fish You Should Never Eat

You can grow oysters in your backyard.

Love the flavor of oysters but hate the slimy texture? Can't find a good fishmonger in your neighborhood? There are a number of plants that taste like oysters, including oyster mushrooms and black salsify, also called "vegetable oyster." Salsify is a root vegetable that's similar to parsnips or carrots, and it grows from late fall to early spring. If you want to grow your own, gardeners recommend planting salsify about three months before cold weather really sets in.

Read More: How to Grow Mushrooms in Under 10 Days

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