Oyster Species Guide: The five species of oysters eaten in the Western world

Crassostrea virginica (C. virginica)

Common names: Eastern oyster, Atlantic oyster, Gulf oyster, Blue Point, Malpeque

This is the great American oyster, the species that occurs naturally from Canada down the East Coast to New York and Chesapeake Bay and all the way across the Gulf.

Crassostrea gigas (C. gigas)

Common names: Pacific oyster, Japanese oyster, creuse (France)

Introduced to the Pacific Coast of the United States from Asia in the early 1900s and the French coast in the 1970s, C. gigas is the most common farm-raised oyster in the Pacific Northwest and France.

Crassostrea sikamea (C. sikamea)

Common names: Kumamoto

This oversized thimble of an oyster is farm raised in the Pacific Northwest. It has a deep bottom shell and a fluted lip. It was introduced to Washington from Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan in 1947.

Ostrea conchaphila (O. conchaphila) or Ostrea lurida (O. lurida)

Common names: Olympia oyster, Oly, tiny Pacific oyster

Early taxonomists thought O. conchaphila and O. lurida were two different species, but in the 1990s, scientists agreed they were identical and combined the two names. About the size of a 50-cent piece, the tiny Olympia is the indigenous oyster of the Pacific Northwest. Like the European flat, it is a member of the genus Ostrea. The fishery collapsed in the late 1800s, but the Olympia oyster has been revived in recent years thanks to the efforts of dedicated oystermen and environmentalists.

Ostrea edulis (O. edulis)

Common names: European oyster, flat oyster, Belon

This is the oyster of the Roman orgy and the French Renaissance. The shallow, round shell resembles a dinner plate, hence the name. The flavor is the boldest in the oyster world, with strong marine components and an intense mineral aftertaste. After centuries of overfishing and the ravages of oyster diseases, O. edulis is on the verge of disappearing.

Click here for this week's feature story, "How Do You Like Your Oysters?"