There are scores of different oysters slurped in America, but they’re all members of one of five species—and really only four are served widely across the country. And just as with wine, where the shellfish are grown affects their flavor and texture. Here’s the quick-and-salty guide to what to expect from each of the four most popular types so you can impress your friends at happy hour with your bivalve bravado.
Also known as Atlantic oysters, they’re one of the most popular kinds out there and are grown in the waters off of the coast of North America and in the Gulf of Mexico. On menus you’ll most often find them listed by their region like Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), Blue Point or Wellfleet. With mostly flatter, smoother shells they are briny and crisp and generally the more north you go, the saltier they are.
The crustacean-loving crowd’s favorite, Kumamotos originate from Japan and are traditionally grown on the West Coast. They’re usually listed just by their name by bars and restaurants, and are on the smaller side with deeper-cupped shells. “Kumies,” “Kumas” or “Kumos,” as some call them, are not very briny but instead quite sweet and easy to eat due to their petite size.
Native to the Pacific Coast of North America, these oysters are the smallest of the lot but are flatter than Kumamotos. Also identified by their name on menus, their shells are often pearlescent. And while they may be tiny, they pack a punch with intense earthy and coppery flavors.
Pacifics are the most common West Coast oyster, and they’re usually listed by harvest region just like Eastern oysters—so think Pickering Pass and Sun Hollow. With fluted or pointed shells that can be striped with pink, purple, green and white, these oysters tend to be creamy with a sweet finishing taste.