Eating oysters is one of the very best things you can do for your brain, your body and the environment.

Oysters are Super Food Heroes that could help cure the global mental health crisis, the effects of global warming on the oceans and the forces of modern stress on the human body. Sound crazy? It’s real. These and other topics are what scientists and experts from 18 countries (i) were discussing at the 7th International Oyster Symposium in Bangor, Wales.

Recent scientific evidence (ii) shows how quaffing oysters protects the liver, prevents diabetes and prevents stress. Their extremely rare amino acids also trigger an increase and balancing of sex hormones for both men and women, plus a newly discovered phenolic antioxidant they contain actually traverses the blood brain barrier, causing a heightened sense of well-being and better sleep. Now isn’t that perfect for Happy Hour?

This low fat, high quality protein source (made up of over 250 kinds of protein) is one of nature’s richest sources of zinc and vitamin B-12. Loaded with minerals, just 4 oysters will deliver your recommended daily allowances of calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese AND phosphorous. Eat a dozen and you’ll benefit from a full 7 mg of iron (which lemon, incidentally, helps you to absorb) and feel euphoric! It’s no wonder we ate all the wild ones.

Over the past couple of hundred years, we’ve made them officially extinct in the wild by destroying the important reefs their populations created (called middens) which protected coastal areas from storm surge damage. A dreadful loss to realize in hindsight after recent extreme weather patterns. These middens offered habitat to hundreds of other species, were keystone to their ecosystems, yet another reason why restoration projects are underway around the globe to bring them back. They play a vital part in environmental health, filtering up to 50 gallons a day each of water in our estuaries (the lungs of our planet) and neutralizing the nitrogen and carbon caused by global pollution emissions, which they tidily absorb into their shells. “There are already 80 main estuaries in England alone which could sequester 28,148,872 tonnes of CO2. Scotland, its islands and N. Ireland could add three times that amount” explains

Professor Michael Crawford, Director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry & Human Nutrition. the world’s leading researcher into appropriate nutrition for the brain. He tells us that oysters provide iodine and DHA poly unsaturated fatty acids (from which the eye and brain evolved 600 – 500 million years ago) that we still require today for healthy brain development and functionality.

What other food can deliver all that and be not only farmed sustainably but renewably? Barton Seaver (Director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative, Chef, Author and National Geographic Fellow) says they’re “restorative seafood” essential for replenishment and evolution of the crucial resource that is our oceans. I say we should all give a shuck and bring oysters back in a big way, into our regular diet and into the environment.

 This is why cooked oysters are the next BIG thing.

Curiously, a recent survey (iii) found that 40% of people in Britain today have never even tasted an oyster, which is remarkable considering half a billion oysters a year were sold out of Billingsgate fish market near London in the 1800’s; every man, woman and child was eating on average 500 a year each! It’s urgent for us all to get as familiar with them again, grow more and eat our way to global health. Cooking them may just be the remedy.

For those who don’t like the idea of eating them raw, or for those who balk at trying to just get them open, just pop them (briefly) in the oven or the freezer, or a steamer, or directly on a fire and they will open effortlessly for you to detach then cook up some magic!  Its most pleasing when they’re presented prettily back in their shell as hors d’oeuvres.

A cooked oyster is a beautiful thing and ridiculously quick and easy to prepare – truly a superfood fast-food! The bigger ones are better for cooking. There are as many ways to prepare them as there are creative cooks. Delicious and versatile, they can be broiled, poached, stewed, steamed, roasted on a fire or grill, smoked, baked, fried…even pickled! Or toss them raw into your pasta dishes, risottos, omelets, stuffings, beef pies…you get the picture.

Each oyster has its own ‘merroir’ depending on the waters it grew in, so create your own cooked oyster dish accordingly.  Sweet, briny, herbaceous, melony, minerally, crisp or creamy…whatever their particular profile, they’ll marry beautifully with a creamy base of butter, cream or cheese. Add herbs or seasonal vegetables, or the smoky notes from ham, sausage or duck magret. Add a splash of Champagne, Pernod or Vermouth, top with crunchy, seasoned breadcrumbs or caviar, go wild!

I conjured a cooked oyster appetizer called ‘The Dragon’(in honor of Wales’ national symbol) for the World Oyster Society’s cooked oyster celebration at beautiful Chateau Rhianfa on the Isle of Anglesey overlooking the Menai Strait. The event featured channel island oysters (Ostrea edulis,natives oyster and crassostrea gigas, rock oysters) served both raw and cleverly prepared. They all went down a treat.

Now I’m working on the upcoming cookbook ‘A World of Cooked Oysters’ with Dr. Jonathan King and Jaqueline Fitzgerald, and offering an educational and culinary workshop “Oysters: Health & the Environment”.  And, of course, eating oysters a hundred ways, because I’m smart.

Listen to Burnell’s interview on BBC Radio 4 about this subject here 

By Chef Burnell Shively

Burnell is a private chef, nutritional therapist and culinary consultant. Based in southern France, when not cooking, she collaborates with organizations that support sustainable, renewable agriculture and aquaculture. On the organizational committees of the last two World Oyster Society International Symposiums (Cape Cod 2015 and Bangor, Wales 2017), she’s also an active member of Slow Food International. Burnell offers culinary workshops and foraged food products too.

i) Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Japan, S. Africa, Canada, USA, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales
ii)Watanabe Oyster Laboratory, Japan
iii) Morrisons Supermarket, UK

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