Oysters owe much of their flavor to terroir, the specific environment during which they grow— indeed, oysters are the food that tastes most like the sea. According to Rowan Jacobsen from theoysterguide.com, there are at least two hundred unique oyster appellations in North America, each producing oysters with a distinct and often dazzling flavor.
Don’t say “SALTY,” say “briny”
They mean the same thing except briny is “salty the way sea water is salty.” Typically speaking, East Coast oysters are brinier than West Coast oysters—especially oysters from Maine and Massachusetts—but there are exceptions.
Other good descriptors and when they apply:
- “Sweet”—When the oyster is kind of mild and sweet instead of very salty.
- “Creamy”—When the oyster is buttery and not quite firm.
- “Fresh Biscuit”—Beginners oysters that don’t have a superstrong briny flavor.
- “Plump”—Usually due to slow growth in nutrient/algae-rich water.
- “Springy”—Usually due to cold, deep water like you find on the East Coast.
- “Copper”—When oysters have a very strong, acidic or rusty flavor.
Don’t say “WATER,” say “terroir”
It’s a French word that you may have heard used with wine. Terroir means the characteristics of a place—its climate, geology, and wildlife, for example—that impact food produced there. Terroir affects the flavor of an oyster just as much, if not more, than it does wine because the effects are less subtle. Oysters take on the exact same salt level of whatever water they’re in, so ocean oysters will be much saltier than oysters from the northern Chesapeake, for example. Other terroir elements that affect flavor include the algae in the water (because oysters eat algae) and the water’s minerality.