As restaurant customers become increasingly concerned about the freshness and naturalness of their food, restaurant operators become increasingly concerned about costs and availability. This is maybe no truer for anyone than those who deal primarily in seafood, for whom the benefits of farm-to-table cooking do not apply. Farm-raised fish have a bit of a reputation–they’re pumped full of antibiotics, fed foods that aren’t in their natural diet (including other fish), and generally raised in cramped, inhumane conditions. These are all valid concerns, of course–as long as you’re talking about fish.
Oysters, on the other hand, are a much happier story. Unlike tuna, salmon, tilapia, et al, farm-raised oysters are essentially raised in their natural environments under controlled conditions. The result is a sustainable, affordable, arguably tastier product.A closer look at oysters reveals that they’re a perfect candidate for farming. According to W&T Seafood’s website, “oysters don’t need to be fed, and thus do not further deplete wild seafood stocks. Instead, oysters act like a sponge, absorbing and filtering minerals and nutrients from the water around them, no additional help needed. Oysters do not generate waste or pollute the water, even in densely packed beds. On the contrary, they remove nitrogen from the water and improve water clarity, which benefits other aquatic plants and wildlife. In general, they only grow and flourish in clean conditions, so farmers don’t use added chemicals in production and they have strong incentives to protect the regional watershed.”
Most importantly to restaurant operators, the fact that they can be grown in very dense beds means that costs stay lower than wild oysters.
Of course, if they don’t taste good, none of this matters, since no one will want to buy them. Rest assured, these oysters are no less tasty–possibly even more so. Whereas oysters in the wild struggle to find nutrients, farmed oysters are fed a steady diet to increase not just their flavor, but their size. And, since they’re grown in naturally occurring bodies of water, they have the same deep, briny flavor of their wild counterparts.
For any restaurant with seafood on their menu, educating customers on the benefits of farm-raised shellfish will go a long way in keeping costs low and profits high!