Though oyster bars pop up daily on street corners nationwide, offering a wide variety of mollusks to sample, it can be difficult to sort through the many available options. Oysters primarily vary based on where they were harvested (East vs West Coast), the water they filter (fresh vs salt water), and how they’re handled. There are five main species, with dozens of regional varieties within each. With over 100 different varieties to choose from, we’ve compiled a cheat sheet to trick your friends into thinking you possess the palate of a seasoned oyster gourmand.
Kumamoto (aka Kumi, Kumo): Because of their small size and mild flavor, Kumos are perfect for beginners. Originally from Japan, they’re now cultivated along the US West Coast from Baja California to Puget Sound. Kumos have a buttery texture that pairs perfectly with their earthy, almost nutty flavor.
Blue Points (aka Eastern Oyster, Virginica, Malpeque, Wellfleet): Also known as the “great American oyster,” Blue Points are found along the North American East Coast. Because of the Atlantic’s warmer waters, this variety tends to be larger than their Pacific cousins, with a more savory and brinier flavor.
Pacific (aka Japanese Oyster, Miyagi, Kusshi): With naturally ruffled and elongated shells, Pacific oysters are the world’s most cultivated. Though they range in flavor, Pacific oysters tend to be sweeter and less briny than the average. Some say they even taste like a honeydew or watermelon.
Belons (aka European Flats): Originally from the Brittany region of France, these flat oysters are the most popular variety in Europe. Their characteristic smooth shell is the perfect vehicle for a meatier oyster, with a seaweed and sharp mineral taste.
Olympia (aka Oly): The only variety that are smaller than Kumos are also the only oysters native to the US West Coast. Though they’re about the size of a quarter, these tiny creatures pack a flavor punch, with a sweet metallic taste.