With February comes Valentine's Day, and since oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac, you may be counting on these shelled delicacies to help make this month full of love. While proof of the relationship between oysters and Cupid may be hard to find, evidence of their nutritional and culinary values is not. And there certainly is something to be said for the romantic value of enjoying oysters on the half-shell, or lovingly preparing Oysters Florentine for the object of your desire. 


Nutrition Notes

Oysters are good source of protein, they are low in fat, and provide plenty of iron and zinc as well as some calcium. If you're not eating oysters raw with just a squirt of lemon juice, however, the nutriton values can change drastically (e.g. with butter, cream sauce, etc.).

Eastern Farmed Oysters (raw): A serving of 6 medium oysters (approximately 84 grams) provides 50 calories, 4 g protein, 1.3 g fat (<0.5 g saturated), 150 mg sodium, 21 mg cholesterol, is an excellent source (>25% DV) of iron, zinc, copper, selenium and vitamin B12, and a source (>5% DV) of magnesium, phosphorus, folate, vitamin C and thiamin. They also contain some calcium.

Eastern Wild Oysters (raw): A serving of 6 oysters (approximately 84 grams) provides 57 calories, 6 g protein, 2 g fat (0.65 g saturated), 177 mg sodium, 45 mg choleseterol, is an excellent source of iron, zinc, copper, selenium and vitamin B12, and a source of phosphorus, vitamin C, thiamin and riboflavin. They also contain some calcium.

Pacific Oysters (raw): A serving of 3 oysters (approximately 85 grams) provides 69 calories, 8 g protein, 2 g fat (<0.5 g saturated), 90 mg sodium, 42 mg cholesterol, is an excellent source of iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, and a source of magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin C. They also contain some calcium.

(Nutrition analysis from USDA Nutrient Database )

55 grams of Gold Seal™ Smoked Oysters in Cottonseed Oil contains 120 calories, 7 grams fat (including 1.5 g saturated, 0.3 g trans), 35 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 10 g protein, 10% DV vitamin A, 4% DV calcium and 90% DV iron. www.goldseal.ca

Zinc is thought to have immune-boosting effects, and oysters are very rich in zinc.


About Oysters

Oysters are marine mollusks that have hard, rough, gray shells. Their meat can vary in colour from creamy beige to pale gray, and their flavour can vary from salty to bland, their texture from tender to firm. Oysters are grown and harvested from both natural and cultivated oyster beds throughout the world.

Oysters are at their best, especially for eating raw on the half shell, during the fall and winter, which makes them perfect for Valentine's Day. During the rest of the year, they are available, but oysters spawn in the summer, causing them to become soft and fatty.

Do oysters have aphrodisiac powers? The Romans documented them as aphrodisiacs in the second century AD, making this a long-standing and widely-held belief. Juvenal wrote of the wanton ways of women after ingesting wine and oysters. Some believe the oyster's aphrodisiac powers on men may stem from the oyster's suggestive shape... 

There are numerous species of oysters, and the ones you find at your local grocer's are likely the ones that are cultivated closest to where you live. This is because shipping costs typically run too high for moving oysters far from their beds.

Malpeques Oysters: These oysters are grown in PEI and have a reputation as one of the world�s finest species. Their appearance, taste and keeping qualities are excellent, with a clarity and purity of flavour in its liquor.

European Oysters: These oysters are attractive for their rounded shells and more regular appearance than the Portuguese oyster.

Portuguese Oysters: These oysters are larger than European oysters, and are also known as giant Pacific oysters, with a maximum length of about 17 cm (6-7̈). In the United States, three oyster species are predominant for commercial harvesting: Pacific or Japanese; Eastern or Atlantic; and the Olympia.

Olympia Oysters: These oysters are rarely larger than 1-1/2̈, and are harvested from Washington's Puget Sound.

Pacific or Japanese Oysters: These are found along the Pacific seaboard and can reach up to a foot in length.

Atlantic or Eastern Oysters: These are considered culinarily superior to Pacific oysters.

Related Oyster Products:

Oyster Crabs are small (less than 1" wide) soft-shelled crabs that make their homes inside oysters, living off the food their host eats. They are not found in all oysters, and most processors don't collect them during shucking, making them hard to find, with gourmets considering them a delicacy. They are pale pink in colour and are best simply prepared, sautéed in butter.

Oyster Sauce is a dark-brown sauce made from oysters, brine and soy sauce. It is thick and concentrated, imparting a rich flavour to dishes. It is popular in Asian dishes and as a table condiment.


Fresh oysters are available year-round. Live oysters are best as fresh as possible, so opt for a store with good turnover and which keeps their oysters chilled at all times. Shells should be undamaged and tightly closed or, if gaping, should snap shut when tapped. Oysters that are small for their species are younger and more tender.

Fresh, shucked oysters should be plump, uniform in size, have good colour, smell fresh and pleasant, and the oyster liquor they are packaged in should be clear, not cloudy.

Oysters are also available frozen, smoked and canned. Canned oysters may be packaged in water or their own liquor.


Use oysters shortly after purchasing: the sooner they're used, the better they will taste. To store, cover live oysters with a damp towel and refrigerate, with the larger shell down, up to three days.

Shucked oysters should be refrigerated in their liquor and used within two days.

Canned oysters can be stored, unopened, for up to a year in a dry, cool place. Once opened, wrap well and refrigerate the unused portion for up to two days.


Oysters in the shell can be served raw, baked, steamed, grilled or incorporated into dishes. Shucked oysters can be batter-fried, saut�ed, grilled, used in soups or stews, dressings, poultry stuffings or appetizers.


Oysters are a versatile seafood. They can be baked, steamed, poached or grilled in the shell. They are also used in specialty dishes such as Oysters Pommary or Florentine while in the shell. Shucked oysters can be deep-fried, sautéed, grilled, in chowders, soups, stews, pies, casseroles, stuffings, dressings, as appetizers and main courses.

The simplest way to prepare oysters is to serve them raw in the shell, with a squirt of lemon juice. Shuck them first so that they can be easily slid out of the shell and enjoyed.

Did You Know?

  • The theory that suggests limiting oyster consumption to months with an "R" in their name is no longer applicable. This rule of thumb may have been helpful prior to the days of reliable refrigeration, when the heat of R-less months such as June and July threatened to spoil oysters during shipping and storage.
  • For a good read about oysters, Eleanor Clark's The Oysters of Locmariaquer is "at once scientific and poetic" as well as informative, according to Alan Davidson, author of The Penguin Companion to Food (Penguin, 2002).

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