Sawmill Bay will make you question other smoked oysters
Sawmill Bay vs. big brand smoked oysters. Who is the winner?
Admittedly, until very recently I thought the smoked oysters I ate my whole life were local. Then one day I mindlessly reached for a can of Clover Leaf oysters and noticed that these oysters were in fact a product of China. Mind blown.
When I saw Sawmill Bay Shellfish post a photo of their cans of smoked oysters I hopped on my bike and rode across town to Fresh Ideas Start Here (F.I.S.H) to grab a can or two – 16 kilometres and $24 later I possessed two cans of these local treats.
Sawmill Bay Shellfish is an oyster, clam and mussel farm based on Read Island, which is pretty much an uninhabited island sandwiched between Quadra and Cortes Island off the coast near Campbell River.
The oysters are ‘beach grown’ in pristine waters, which means the oyster seeds, or baby oysters, are ‘planted’ on the ocean floor at low tide so they grow with the ebb and flow making for a more durable shell and meatier oyster. It’s then shipped to St. Jean’s Seafood in Nanaimo to be smoked using hardwood.
I’m well versed in Clover Leaf smoked oysters as they were ‘treats’ in my household, so I thought I’d do a comparison of the two to see what, if anything, is the difference.
Upon opening the can you could see that Clover Leaf was packed in a lot of oil, while Sawmill Bay’s was not. Sawmill Bay’s oysters were plump and intact, while Clover Leaf’s were a bit shrivelled and flattened – to be fair this may have more to do with the oyster variety than how they are processed. The Sawmill Bay oysters were smooth and meaty in texture with no tough bits and no squishy bits. The comparative Clover Leaf was a little tough and chewy.
Tastewise, Sawmill Bay’s smoked oysters had a really clean and lightly smoked flavour, while, the Clover Leaf was much more acidic and had a more intense smokey flavour thanks to the added oil.
My little experiment led me to more questions about how big brand oysters end up on the shelf.
In Vancouver, the common brands you’ll find on the shelf are Clover Leaf and Ocean’s. Both brands tout social and environmental responsibility on their website, including sustainability audits and a tool that helps you trace your catch by entering the serial numbers from your can. To my disappointment, and perhaps yours, this function is not available for Clover Leaf oysters – only their other canned products.
As far as where the oysters are actually grown, the information is vague. Ocean’s claims that their oysters are “harvested in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and then prepared and packaged in China “under strict quality standards,” while Clover Leaf had no information on where the oysters are grown or how they end up in China.
Consider this: the Sawmill Bay smoked oyster travelled about 175 km from Read Island to Kitsilano, where I purchased the two cans for $12 each. A quick google search guestimates that my can of Clover Leaf likely travelled 20,000 km before hitting the shelf at Donald’s for about $3. Mind blown again.
So, which oysters to eat? I’m going with Sawmill Bay because, frankly, they tasted better. I also like the fact that I know exactly where they come from, the quality of water they grew in and how they were harvested. The big drawback is the price, which makes these smoked oysters more of a special treat than a day-to-day snack. For the quality and peace of mind, I’ll pay the price.
Know Your Smoke
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires producers to label packages according to what method they use to infuse that smokey goodness. Here are the guidelines so that the next time you reach for those smoked oysters, you know what you’re buying.
“Naturally smoked” – the meat product was exposed to smoke generated from the direct combustion of hardwood, hardwood sawdust or corn cobs. This can be done either in the presence of heat or not
“Smoked” – the meat product was treated with smoke derived directly or indirectly (for example, liquid smoke) from hardwood, hardwood sawdust or corn cobs. In the case of liquid smoke, the term “smoked” must be used only if the meat product was subjected to heat in the presence of a vaporized liquid smoke solution or when the meat product subjected to heat has been packaged in a casing or wrapping impregnated with liquid smoke
“Smoke flavour” – this term must be used when liquid smoke has been added to the meat product by methods other than those mentioned above, for example, adding liquid smoke directly into the emulsion.
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