Ceduna is known as the Oyster Capital of the World. This world-wide delicacy is grown in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight around Ceduna, with some of the best oysters in the country found in the surrounding bays. While many people travel to the Eyre Peninsula for all types of delicious seafood, oysters are certainly one of the most sought-after foodie experiences on the Far West Coast.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy the fresh oysters in Ceduna. From touring a working oyster farm to joining in the annual Oysterfest in Ceduna, there are many ways to learn about this coveted seafood. This article will cover everything that you need to know about oysters, including all the ways you can taste them in and around Ceduna.
Oysters are salt-water bivalve molluscs that live in the sea and marine environments. While there are hundreds of different varieties of oysters, they all come from only five species. These five species are the Pacific Oysters, Kumamoto Oysters, European Flat Oysters, Atlantic Oysters and Olympia Oysters. The main difference between these species are the different shells and shapes that they come in. Pacific Oysters are the main species that are grown around the Eyre Peninsula.
The briny meat that is found inside oysters is considered a delicacy around the world and can be consumed cooked or raw. These edible oysters belong to the ostreidae family, while the pearl making oysters are part of the pterridae family. The latter are found in deep water ocean, rather than close to the coast.
Oysters play an important part in the ocean’s ecosystem by filtering pollutants in the water. They are also extremely healthy for humans to consume, and not only because of the long-standing myth that they have aphrodisiac qualities! They are rich in essential vitamins and minerals for good overall health.
History of eating oysters
Oysters have been consumed by humans for many centuries. There is evidence that they were consumed in Australia up to 10, 000 years ago by Aboriginal people, and probably much longer. It’s most likely that they were consumed cooked back then, roasted over an open fire. The shells were then used for tools and fish hooks, with many remains of oyster shells being found around Australia dating back thousands of years.
However, it was during the Roman era that they became a sought-after delicacy by the royal class. There is even evidence that the first ever cultivation system with channels and locks to control tides was built by Sergius Orata during the Roman Republic, making oyster farming a very old tradition.
During the 19th century they became a popular seafood to consume in Europe and America and they were relatively cheap and abundant at the time. However, this led to the wild stocks of oysters beginning to deplete, and prices started to soar. By the 20th century, they became the expensive delicacy that they remain today, with many high class restaurants featuring oysters as a starter or finger food.
Health benefits of oysters
Oysters, like other seafood, are very healthy for you. They are extremely high in zinc, which is great for your immune system and overall energy levels. On top of that, oysters are high in vitamin D and B12, selenium, copper and iron, amongst other vitamins and minerals. As with other healthy seafood options like salmon, oysters are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fats that play an important role in a healthy immune system, heart and brain.
Oysters are also a good source of protein. They’re a complete protein source, meaning that they contain all nine essential amino acids that your body needs. This means that per gram, oysters are one of the healthiest things that you can eat. However, there are a few myths and stories about oysters which many people still believe.
Myths and stories about oysters
One of the most famous myths about oysters is that they are aphrodisiacs. While this dates back to the Roman times when Casanova claimed to eat 50 of them for breakfast to boost his libido, there is no science to back this up quite yet. However, oysters do contain a high amount of zinc and other nutrients which play an important role in energy levels and overall health. This is likely why so many people believe that they also possess the ability to get you into a sexy mood. Another common myth about oysters is that you shouldn’t consume them during the warmer, summer months. This idea is based on the belief that oysters are at their best when kept cold. It’s also during the warmer months that they reproduce and there is a long standing belief that they are best left alone. However, this is really only relevant to wild oysters as the more modern breeding and growing techniques are much better at producing oysters for consumption all year round. Although, they are certainly better consumed when cold, but this can be achieved at any time of year with modern cooling methods. Another fun fact about oysters, which is not a myth, is that oyster shells are recyclable and reusable in many ways. The shells can be used to create and build new reefs, which are at historic low levels around the world. The shells also act as good compost for your garden, as they contain calcium carbonate and can be used to replace lime.
Concerns about consuming oysters
While they have incredible health benefits, there are some well-known concerns about eating oysters. Eating raw oysters does come with a risk of consuming a rare bacterium. Vibrio bacteria are commonly found in shellfish, making the myth of the “bad oyster” a very real concern. However, it’s not all that common, and if you eat oysters regularly, you’ll know that getting a bad oyster is very rare and simply down to bad luck. Most oyster experts will know how to avoid eating a bad oyster. If an oyster is dry or smells particularly bad, then this is usually a sign that it is off and not safe to eat. It’s important to keep oysters at an optimal cool temperature to keep them fresh and safe to eat.
How to eat oysters
Oysters can be consumed either raw or cooked. There’s no right way to eat them but many oyster lovers, prefer to consume them raw. You can slurp them down right from the half shell once opened, which is how they’re traditionally meant to be consumed. However, you may need to loosen the oyster first with a fork as they are generally served still alive and attached the shell.
While some people prefer to swallow the meat whole, you should actually chew them to really enjoy the full flavour. They are also often served with a condiment such as lemon or sauce, if you want to add more flavour. At high class restaurants, oysters are usually paired with a wine or cocktail to wash them down with, which only adds to their romantic appeal.
The taste and texture of raw oysters is certainly not for everyone. You may prefer to consume cooked oysters, steamed, baked, fried, smoked or grilled for example. This is usually done with oil, butter, lemon, garlic and salt, or other seasonings until fully cooked through.
Oysters and the Great Australian Bight
The Great Australian Bight is the large open bay that stretches from Cape Carnot on the Eyre Peninsula to Cape Pasley near Esperance in Western Australia. It is the landmark feature of the entire southern coast of Australia and covers around 45, 822 square kilometres. The Bight is a thriving ecosystem and a truly unique biodiversity not found in many other parts of the world. The waters are home to many marine animals and are particularly known for abundant fisheries. Some of Australia’s best seafood comes from these waters, including Southern Bluefin Tuna, King George Whiting and, of course, oysters.
Oysters play an important role in the clean and nutrient-rich waters of the Bight. Each oyster can clean up to 30 to 50 gallons of water each day, which makes them great for the natural environment. They feed by pumping water through their gills, which acts as a strainer for algae and other particles. This makes them especially important for the balance of the natural ecosystem and the future health of the Great Australian Bight.
They are farmed right along the coast, particularly on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula around Ceduna. The delicious oysters found here have contributed to the Bight being called the Seafood Frontier of Australia. The aquaculture sector plays an important role in the South Australian economy. Oysters make up the second largest contributor to the aquaculture sector after Southern Bluefin Tuna. Oysters from the Great Australian Bight are exported overseas to various countries, as well as kept domestically for the restaurant and hospitality industry and farm-gate sales.
Oysters around Ceduna
The pristine waters around Ceduna have made it a prime location for growing oysters. The perfectly sheltered bays and ideal water flows and currents means that the oyster industry has thrived on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula in particular. This has led to the Ceduna region being titled the Oyster Capital of Australia, with some of the very best oysters found in the bays immediately surrounding the town.
Naturally growing oysters were found around Streaky Bay for many years before commercial farms were established. The first leases of the oyster growing industry were established in the 1980s in Denial Bay and then Smoky Bay, just either side of Ceduna. The waters there are quite unique, and the oysters have been recognised over the years as being some of the sweetest tasting in the country. The main species of oyster grown around there is the Pacific Oysters, which mostly come from Tasmania originally.
There are a range of farming techniques and strategies used in the waters around Ceduna. Originally the farms were in the shallow waters close to shore, but most have since moved out to the open waters of the bays, which is closer to the flow of nutrient rich waters. Leases are managed by different oyster growing companies and families, many of which have been involved in the aquaculture community for generations and have benefited from many years of trial and error.
The first leases were established in Smoky Bay in 1988. The town and waters just east of Ceduna are now home to the Aquaculture Park, which includes around 24 oyster farms over 187 hectares. Some of the families involved in the farms have been innovating since the 1980s and have discovered the best cultivating and management strategies to produce the very best oysters possible. Over the last few years, the oysters from Smoky Bay have been considered some of the most sought-after in Australia and now contribute around 30% of South Australia’s total oyster sales.
Denial Bay was the first area to be awarded leases for oyster farming in 1985. The economy of the small town west of Ceduna now relies heavily on the oyster growing industry, with leases covering around 200 hectares in the bay. Along with Smoky Bay, it contributes a large proportion of South Australia’s total oyster sales.
Further east of Ceduna, Streaky Bay has also emerged as a great oyster growing location. While natural oysters grew wild around there many years ago, the first Pacific Oysters were commercially introduced and grown from 1988 onwards. There are four main growing areas around the bay grouped together as the Streaky Bay Aquaculture Management Zone which covers around 200 hectares. You can see the leases as you wander along the coast and jetty.
Best ways to experience Ceduna’s oysters
If you’re visiting Ceduna and keen to try some of the best oysters in the country, then there are a few great ways to learn more about the oyster growing industry and taste some for yourself.
Every year the oyster growing industry around Ceduna comes together to celebrate at the annual Oysterfest. Put on every South Australian Labour Day long weekend, the festival has events going over the Saturday and Sunday of the weekend. Established back in 1991, the festival has been going for a few decades now. It’s a celebration of all things oyster related, including within the food, wine and hospitality industry.
While the festival has always been about the local community, it’s also a delight for visitors to join in and experience some of the fun. You’ll find the festival taking place across the foreshore in town, with a range of events and activities, including live entertainment, kid’s activities, carnival rides, competitions, local market stalls with fresh produce and crafts, premier wine and speciality food, including oysters of course.
While the festival is free to visit, there are some paid options including a cooking class and special music performances. However, there are so many things on over the three days, there is a fully loaded schedule which outlines what’s on throughout the day. It’s the perfect time to plan your visit to Ceduna and experience one of the best culinary festivals in the country.
Ceduna oyster photo opportunity
Along with many Aussie towns and their big photo ops, Ceduna has its very own oyster monument. Originally created for the first ever Oysterfest’s parade when oyster growers decided to have their own float, it won the best float for the year and returned the following year again. Having taken three weeks to make and weighing in at around three tonnes, the giant oyster now sits in town ready for visitors to get their Instagram-worthy snap.
By far one of the most popular things to do on the Eyre Peninsula for oyster lovers is to tour a working oyster farm. This is often considered a highlight for those visiting Ceduna and is a very unique way to get an insight into this industry and delicacy.
Working oyster farm tours can be experienced in Smoky Bay’s Aquaculture Park just east of Ceduna. Some of the family-owned farms are open to visitors with a variety of tour options to suit your needs and interests. The idea is that you get to understand more about the cultivation process and enjoy some of the freshest oysters you’ll ever taste straight from the pristine waters.
The guided tours are run by experts in the oyster growing industry who are happy to share with you the process of growing oysters to perfection. You can also learn how to shuck an oyster properly before taste testing some of what’s on offer, with a perfect wine pairing. The tours are particularly popular at sunset time, when you can enjoy a beautiful view across the bay and the oyster leases during your tasting session. Widely considered a top experience on the Eyre Peninsula, this is something all seafood lovers will want to do once in their life.
Seafood restaurants and farm-gate shops
If you’re only passing through Ceduna or limited on time, then there are some great restaurants where you can sample some of the local oysters. From delicious seafood restaurants to the local pubs, oysters and other seafood are heavily featured on the menus in Ceduna. You can easily get a taste of some of the local oysters in town without having to head out to one of the working farms.
Or, if you simply want to enjoy your own oysters, there are often farm-gate shops and seafood food trucks letting you purchase fresh oysters straight from the growers. You can even order your own dozen or so for delivery and enjoy them in the comfort of your own home.