How to Taste an Oyster

Let’s establish that there’s no right or wrong way to eat an oyster; what you like to eat is what you like. However, we will offer some guidelines for how to get the best tasting experience for oysters, particularly if you are trying a variety for the first time. This will help you analyze the oyster and better inform your ordering choices for the future.

  • First, don’t pour out the oyster liqueur or rinse the oyster with water. This liquid is not dirty, and in fact, it’s an integral part of the oyster’s merroir! You are getting a taste of the water from another place, so don’t let it go to waste.
  • If there are any shell fragments visible in the oyster (sometimes this is a problem when an oyster is shucked hastily or without care), pick them out with your finger or a fork.
  • Taste the first oyster naked, without garnish or condiments. We know that oysters can become repetitive, and after downing several you may want to add some mignonette or Tabasco sauce. You can only get the pure, unadulterated essence of the oyster if you try it by itself though, so make sure you do this before adding other accompaniments.
  • Finally, we recommend tasting the oysters in order of least to greatest salinity. This generally means West Coast oysters, then East Coast oysters. This way, we gradually add salinity without overpowering our taste buds. Between oyster tastings, you can sip some water or chew a cracker to cleanse your palate.

Now, let’s get started. Take a deep whiff of the oyster. It should smell like a fresh ocean breeze, not overpoweringly fishy. If it stinks or smells like rotten egg, then don’t hesitate, throw it out!

Next, slurp the oyster. You’ll be hit with the oyster’s flavor in stages: an initial hit of salt, followed by the sweetness and texture of the body, and then the finish. Be sure to chew the oyster, don’t just swallow it. Many new oyster eaters are squeamish about this, but chewing is where the true flavor and pleasure of eating oysters comes out. As you chew, the oyster’s sweetness is released as your saliva breaks down the glycogen in the oyster’s body. Think about how the flavor fills your mouth. Similar to the way wines have body, oysters also have body and it isn’t necessarily correlated with the size of the oyster.

The last stage is the finish, or flavors that linger after you’ve chewed and swallowed the oyster. This phase can be surprising, and can range from vegetal, earthy and umami flavors, to sweet, creamy and buttery flavors. We often use a tasting wheel to help us pinpoint and express what we’re tasting. You may also want to jot down your observations in a notebook. We’re fans of the 33 Oysters tasting journal, which is lightweight and inexpensive.