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The Wizard of Oysters

Dr. John Supan

Dr. John Supan, head of oyster research at LSU, is a visionary who is leading the Louisiana oyster industry out of the 19th century and into a brave new world of oyster farming. Supan built an oyster hatchery in Western Louisiana that would have revolutionized the leasing business, if it hadn’t been destroyed by hurricanes. Undaunted, he is building another hatchery on Grand Isle. He is also developing a Gulf triploid. A triploid is a sterile oyster that retains its sweet plumpness through the summer because it doesn’t convert glycogen to gonad.

Dr. Supan, or “Soup” as he prefers to be known, invited me to speak at his annual oyster get-together in New Orleans last week. I asked Jim Gossen to come along and help me present a new idea in Gulf oyster marketing. I’ll write more about my talk and my modest proposal to the Louisiana oystermen over the course of the week.

But first, check out what Supan is up to.

The meeting of the Louisiana Oyster Producers Association was focused on the FDA’s threat to close down the summer oyster business because of the continuing vibro vulnificus problem. Speakers presented new alternatives in post-harvest treatment of summer oysters. Irradiation and high salinity treatments are two promising new alternatives. Unlike current treatments, like pasteurization and freezing, the new methods kill vibrio vulnificus bacteria without killing the oyster.

Be it rational or not, the very idea of irradiation scares people. But the high salinity solution is actually an old idea that’s already been proven. And the cool thing about this form of post-harvest treatment is that it has the side effect of making the oysters extra salty. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? The state of Louisiana will be asked to help build a treatment area in a salty bay–essentially a bunch of racks where the oysters can sit around underwater and slurp up the brine. It will probably be awhile before we see the results.

Just think–if you could produce a Gulf oyster triploid and purify it by submerging it in a high salinity area, you could produce a fat sweet, and salty summer oyster that’s also free of bacteria.

And that’s an oyster worth eating in months without an R.

2 comments to The Wizard of Oysters

  • Diane Adams

    Just had a discussion with friends yesterday on this topic.
    Gulf Coast oysters are a treasure and anything to preserve that I am behind 100%; looking forward to your posts on this subject in the future.

  • Mary

    I’d eat those summer salines!

    Is it possible for oysters to be “too” large? We had some gigantic oysters last weekend, I guess they were blown up by all the cold weather. I had to cut them in three pieces. But they were milky and flavorless. I’ve heard medium size is best, guess I now know why.