Why Are Oysters So Expensive?


English writer Charles Dickens wrote in the 19th century: “Poverty and oysters always go hand in hand.” But in the 20th century, the situation changed dramatically. Let’s find out why oysters became so expensive and what is the average price of oysters now.

Why are oysters so expensive? Oysters are so expensive because the demand far exceeds the supply, and the population of oysters has decreased dramatically in the last 100 years. Oysters need to be grown for two years before catching and need to be kept alive while transporting and storing. 

What is the average price of oysters? The average price of oysters is $25-$35 for a dozen ($2-$3 per oyster) if you buy oysters at a grocery shop, not in a restaurant. However, you can buy wholesale oysters from 40 cents to over 80 cents (shipping is not included).

But what about the taste? Are oysters tasty? Do oysters taste fishy? What does an oyster taste like? Oysters have two main flavors: milky and sweet. Oysters might taste salty and smell like fresh fish and sea. Some people say oysters have a buttery taste, while others compare oysters to a shapeless and tasteless jelly. Oysters do not have pronounced flavors, and that is why they are always sprinkled with lemon.

How Did Oysters Become a Delicacy?

When did oysters become a delicacy? Oysters became a delicacy in the 20th century when the oyster population decreased due to uncontrolled fishing. Even though the French authorities imposed restrictions on fishermen, who were banned from fishing for oysters from April to October, it did not help, and oysters became a rare and expensive delicacy.

France is considered the birthplace of the oyster industry. But if not for the native of Florence Catherine de Medici, the French might not have become the main lovers of oysters. It was the 14-year-old princess who taught the local courtiers to eat oysters. However, popularity played a cruel joke on them, and oysters became rare and expensive.

People have been eating oysters for over 2,000 years. Firstly, oysters were tasted by the ancient Romans. They also learned to transport these molluscs in aquariums to keep them fresh. After that, oysters found their way into Italian cuisine, and from there into French.

According to the popular version, oysters appeared at the French court thanks to a native of Florence, Catherine de Medici. In 1533, she married the future French king Henry II and brought with her skilled Italian chefs and new recipes and products. Parsley, artichokes, lettuce, broccoli, turkey, tomato, oysters, and the main stars of Italian cuisine — pasta and parmesan appeared on French tables.

Oysters, as well as mussels and snails, have become firmly established in French cuisine. In the 18th century, oysters became famous as a natural aphrodisiac thanks to Giacomo Casanova’s memoirs. In his notes, the legendary lover admitted that he ate 50 oysters for breakfast.

Until the 19th century, oysters remained the most popular food available to all segments of the population. In wealthy houses, various dishes were prepared from oysters: oysters were baked in pies, stuffed with a bird, or simply eaten raw.

For the poor, oysters were substituted for meat. Similar was Britain’s case, with mountains of oyster shells lining the streets in poor London neighborhoods. Charles Dickens mentions how cheap oysters were in the novel “The Pickwick Papers.”

It’s a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,’ said Sam, ‘that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.

‘I don’t understand you, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.

‘What I mean, sir,’ said Sam, ‘is, that the poorer a place is, the greater call there seems to be for oysters. Look here, sir; here’s a oyster-stall to every half-dozen houses. The street’s lined vith ‘em. Blessed if I don’t think that ven a man’s wery poor, he rushes out of his lodgings, and eats oysters in reg’lar desperation.’

The character did not lie. In Victorian England, a dozen oysters cost 4p, half the price of a loaf of bread.

In the 19th century, oysters started to run out. The year-round oyster fishing has led to the fact that they began to disappear. The French authorities imposed restrictions on fishermen. They banned fishing for oysters from April to October. But this did not change the situation. By the 20th century, oysters finally ceased to be cheap food and turned into a delicacy. In the 19th century, the French conducted the first successful experiments on breeding oysters and that now oysters are bred in many countries did not help either.

Now that it’s easy to deliver fresh oysters anywhere in the world, they have become one of the most popular delicacies. They are grown everywhere — in Korea, Japan, the USA, the EU and beyond. But the largest producer is China, accounting for 80% of the world’s shellfish production.

Nowadays, Pacific oysters cost no less than $16-$20 per dozen if you buy in a store, not in a restaurant. The only thing that has not changed is the main places of extraction (and later breeding) of oysters in Europe. They have remained unchanged since the Roman Empire’s time — the western coast of modern France and the waters off the British Isles.

What Is So Special About Oysters?

What is so special about oysters? Oysters contain very little fat, a lot of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins B1, B2, PP, A, D, minerals like iron, copper, calcium, iodine, phosphorus. Oysters’ chemical composition has a good effect on the nervous system. Thiamine in oysters helps to overcome fatigue and irritability and increase performance.

In its composition, oysters contain a large number of useful substances: vitamins, minerals and trace elements (for example, zinc, selenium, fatty acids, protein, iodine, calcium, as well as vitamins A, E, C, PP and other components). Thanks to such a rich composition, oysters have many positive effects on the human body. In particular, it improves the skin’s external condition, hair and nails, increases sexual desire, improves potency (aphrodisiac properties), etc.

Oysters are one of the ten most expensive delicacies in the world. They are grown in Japan, Italy and the USA, but the French are rightfully considered the best. In China, oysters began to be cultivated in the 4th century BC.

Oysters are a low-calorie healthy product. Oysters are a source of B vitamins, iodine, calcium, zinc and phosphorus. Oysters are an antioxidant that inhibits the aging process of the human body, protects it from cancer and cardiovascular disease. The taste of oysters is strikingly different depending on the region of cultivation — it can be sweetish, or it can be salty, resembling the tastes of familiar vegetables or fruits.

Wild oysters have the brightest flavor, with a slightly metallic flavor. These oysters are much more expensive than those grown artificially. Such oysters are eaten as simply as possible to enjoy the natural taste. Farmer oysters are more oily, and they are added to multicomponent dishes, canned.

Oyster Growing

Oysters are also grown in the USA. The oyster farming industry is gaining momentum in Maryland. They are bred under 300 licenses issued for an area of ​​1,456 hectares in the Chesapeake Bay, both in the water and at the bottom of the bay.

Growing oysters is very different, for example, from growing salmon. Oysters are not fed, they grow in an ecologically clean environment, and the farmer’s task is to create and maintain such an environment without interference. In a sense, this is an exceptionally environmentally friendly production and a real natural product of the area. It takes about two years for an oyster to grow before they get to your table.

But this does not mean that you put oyster spat, and two years later, you got shellfish ready for sale. Throughout this time, the spats are repeatedly removed from the water, subject to the bulkhead and already at the final stage, the shell is cleaned from extraneous growths.

Each batch of oysters goes through a system of analyzes and certification. This is one of the reasons why you should only buy oysters from trusted sellers: specialty restaurants, retail outlets and licensed companies. Hand-buying oysters is extremely risky. Wild oysters in their natural habitats also undergo the necessary checks and tests before they reach the counter. Basically, the principle here is similar to fishing: quotas from licensed companies and the product’s necessary certification.

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