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September 14, 2006 8:23 PM   Subscribe

How likely is it that you'll find pearls in restaurant oysters?

Friends recently found several pearls in BC oysters they were eating in a restaurant. I've found a few in years past. I suppose they're worthless, but what are the odds?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium to Food & Drink (14 answers total)
If they are cooked, they have no value. If raw and of a certain grade, well that's where the best (i.e. non-cultured) pearls come from. The odds would depend on the raw oyster percentage of one's diet.
posted by longsleeves at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2006

If found a little pearl in a small oyster I ate on top of the Space Needle. Musta been a BC oyster.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2006

I'm also wondering if it says anything about the oysters age or culinary quality.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:06 PM on September 14, 2006

"Today, natural pearls are extremely rare. Only about one in 10,000 wild oysters will yield a pearl, and of those, only a small percentage achieve the size, shape and color of truly desirable gems. Most natural beds of pearl-bearing oysters were depleted by over-harvesting in the 18th and 19th centuries. "

When I visited Mikimoto some years ago, they were saying that only about 1 in 100,000 non-cultivated oysters produces a pearl of size and quality to be considered for gem or jewelry use. Moreover, natural pearls are difficult to match for size, color and sheen, in any way that is comparable to cultured pearls, so that their common uses are for rings and earrings, where their variation is not noticeable.
posted by paulsc at 9:20 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Any mollusk that produces nacre is capable of creating pearls to deal with irritants, so it's quite likely that you'll encounter pearls from time to time in oysters you eat. Edible oysters do generate pearls, but these pearls have no value; valuable (meaning large) pearls come from Pearl Oysters, which belong to the family Pteriidae. Edible oysters belong to the family Ostreidae.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:21 PM on September 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

paulsc, he would have been referring to pearl oysters, not to edible ones. The families Pteriidae and Ostreidae aren't even all that closely related, if I recall.

longsleeves, I assumed that the poster's friends were eating oysters on the shell, in which case they would be raw--either way, a pearl's value has nothing to do with whether or not it has been cooked, and everything to do with size, shape, and luster.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 9:26 PM on September 14, 2006

PRB, people eat Mikimoto oysters, as I have, and I don't think any of us minded what sub-family they were members of before they slid down our welcoming gullets. It's not so common today, as it was in 1932, but the "pearl" oysters, un-impregnated with culture chips, are still frequent ingredients in sushi and sashimi in many places in Japan.
posted by paulsc at 9:49 PM on September 14, 2006

Could they have been from 'seeded' oysters, that is, a oyster that was made to produce a pearl? It seems to me to be a good idea to add one or two oysters with pearls to the night's batch. Creates excitement about the food... after all, you're asking about it on the internet.

Japan's pavilion at Epcot has a place where you can pick an oyster and they'll open it up for you and present you with a perfect (though largely worthless) pearl.
posted by aristan at 9:52 PM on September 14, 2006

I have twice found a pearl in my oyster, eating raw oysters at my favourite local sushi bar. They aren't jewelery grade, far too small and irregularly-shaped, but its cool all the same.
posted by Joh at 9:53 PM on September 14, 2006

Two data points:I found a pearl once, but it was quite misshapen, and hollow, if I remember correctly; my dad found one in a fried oyster, but, again, it wasn't of any appreciable quality.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:52 AM on September 15, 2006

paulsc: right, but in response to a question about BC oysters, the distinction between Pearl and Edible oysters is an important one to make. When I wrote earlier that your quote was not referring to edible oysters, I wasn't making a value judgment or casting aspersions on the edibility of Pearl Oysters--I simply meant that it wasn't referring to the same kind of oyster that the poster specified he has been eating.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 10:05 AM on September 15, 2006

That'll teach me to compose answers very late at night without double-checking my sources. Let's try this again:

What I originally meant to say was that any mollusk that secretes a shell is capable of producing pearls. However, the pearls you will find in restaurant oysters diverge in chemical composition from nacreous pearls. The shells of edible oysters are made of calcite and do not secrete nacre, so the "pearls" they produce are actually calcareous concretions; they are valueless because they contain no nacre and are entirely lusterless. They are also harder than nacreous pearls, so be careful not to bite down on one if you encounter it. Other mollusks that produce pearls that are actually calcareous concretions are scallops (which are closely related to Pearl Oysters), clams, and conchs, among others. Here's a short article about conch pearls--be sure to check out the pictures. Here's a picture of the Pearl of Allah, which was actually produced by a clam. Additional trivia: pearls containing nacre are classified as nacreous; conch and scallop "pearls" are classified as porcelaneous.

Sorry for the long post--I just couldn't believe how crazily I messed up my original answer. This one should make a bit more sense.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2006

I have found many small mishapened pearls in gulf coast oysters over the years. It does seem like it happened more often back in the 60s and 70s. No idea why that would be the case.
posted by Carbolic at 3:10 PM on September 15, 2006

Thanks for the answers, all.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:25 PM on September 18, 2006

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