How to Tell If Oyster Is Fresh and Alive?


Oysters are an unusual delicacy because they are served not just raw, but alive! It is thus important to know how to tell if the oyster is fresh and alive not to get food poisoning after trying an expensive delicacy.

How do you know if an oyster is alive? Alive oyster must be closed. If the shell is ajar, it is either dead or dying. To find out if the oyster is still alive, touch the slightly open edge of the shell. If it closes, then it is still alive and can be eaten. If it doesn’t close, then it’s dead.

And only a good experienced chef can determine whether the oyster died a couple of days ago or an hour ago. If it died today, it can still be cooked — like a hot snack or dish. There is no risk after heat treatment.

How to Tell If Oyster Is Fresh and Alive?

How to tell if an oyster is fresh? The shell of the fresh oyster must be free from damage or spots of unknown origin. If the oyster is alive and the shell is open, it is fresh. The oyster must smell like fresh seawater, without any pungent odor. The oyster’s body must be transparent and the shell must be wet. 

When buying oysters in packages, you need to pay attention to the information. The package or container must indicate the dates of the catch of the shellfish, the expiration date, the nuances of origin and the specific type of oyster. In the absence of such data, it is better to refuse the purchase.

Oysters 101 Video Guide: Learn the Basics

Practical Checklist on How to Know If the Oyster Is Alive or Off

How do you know if an oyster is alive? The oyster is alive if:

  • Oyster’s shell is closed;
  • If you hit one oyster against the other, there is a loud sound as if you are hitting rocks against one another;
  • The oyster shell is wet;
  • The oyster is stored in the aquarium or on ice;
  • Oyster’s shell has water inside and is heavy (there may be a dead oyster in a dry shell);
  • The Oyster’s shell has some sand on the surface;
  • The Oyster’s body is transparent.
  • A fresh oyster is distributed evenly all over the shell.

What does a bad oyster look like? How do you know if an oyster is off? The oyster is off if:

  • Oyster’s shell is open;
  • Oyster is dry inside;
  • Oyster’s body is whitish and viscous;
  • Oyster is kept in an improper environment without water or not on the ice.

Bad Oysters

Sometimes dishonest sellers “help” the oysters to close the opened shells with the help of special compositions. However, this will not return the juiciness and taste properties of the oyster. Instead, the oyster is probably dying and you might end up poisoning yourself if you eat it.

Good oysters cannot be packed in containers, they are sold exclusively alive, and are placed on special ice. If the body of the mollusk is cloudy and white, then this is a sign of improper storage or spoilage (the taste properties of such an oyster will be disturbed even if the color has changed due to age or the breeding process). If, during storage, oysters’ shells are opened, immediately throw them away.

The freshness of live oysters is guaranteed by the natural tightness of the shell. When buying, it is impossible to determine the freshness of an oyster by eye. The only guideline is the weight. High-quality oysters have heavy shells, they are closed, that is, they have preserved water.

Some take two oysters and hit one against the other on the flat side. An unopened oyster should sound the same as a rock. If the sound is shallow, then the oyster has already been opened, the juice has flowed out of it and it is not suitable for food.

Remember that fresh, high-quality oysters are sold in three places:

  • specialized shops;
  • fish markets;
  • elite restaurants.

Gourmet sellers are interested in loyal customers. They even sometimes open the oyster’s shell in front of clients. If this happens, take a closer look at the mollusk itself. The one that looks fleshy will be tasty.

When Can You Eat Oysters And Why?

Gourmets know that there are times when they can eat oysters every day. In other periods, even the low price of the mollusk will not tempt them. Are you wondering when to eat oysters? Take a look at a calendar and mark the months in it that have the letter “r” in their names — from September to April. During this period, the oyster meat is as juicy as possible, and the taste is pronounced. 

When Can’t You Eat Oysters?

You should not eat oysters from May to August due to their breeding process that affects the taste of the delicacy. Within three months, the oyster meat turns into a loose substance with an unpleasant bitter aftertaste. Obviously, you will not get food poisoning if you eat oysters in the summer, but the experience will also not be nice.

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