Sandbar Oyster Company proudly offers a limited selection of premium oysters, with the stars of our line-up being “green-gill” oysters. Green-gill is the generic name given to oysters after feeding on Haslea, a microscopic plant that produces a brilliant blue pigment. As oysters feed in waters teeming with Haslea, the plant’s blue pigment becomes concentrated in their gills, turning them various shades of green, up to a deep emerald green where Haslea blooms are particularly strong.
Historically in the U.S., green-gill oysters were viewed as an inferior, if not dangerous, oyster – after all, who in their right mind eats green meat oysters! Well, the French do and have for centuries. The French grow Haslea in ponds called claires along the Marennes-Oléron coast. Oysters are moved into claires teeming with cultured Haslea to become green gills. These fines de claires vertes are among the most coveted and expensive oysters in Europe and the world.
In addition to the stunning presentation and unique flavors of oysters colored by Haslea’s blue pigment called marennine, it is reported to have a range of human health benefits. Research groups in Europe are working to develop marennine as a nutraceutical.
Natural Haslea blooms in the U.S. occur in relatively few estuaries along the southeast and mid-Atlantic coasts. Eastern North Carolina has several estuaries where dense Haslea blooms reliably occur every winter season, typically between December and March. Sandbar Oyster Company is fortunate to have oyster farms in and around the North River Marshes, one of these treasured Haslea blooming regions.
Another differentiating feature of oysters grown by Sandbar Oyster Company is that our oysters come from wild oyster populations, as opposed to oysters starting life in a hatchery. We use Oyster Catcher™ to capture baby oysters directly from natural waters; thus, our oysters possess the full genetic diversity of our growing regions’ natural oysters.
Atlantic Emeralds™ are gathered from the wild as spat and grown at the epicenter of the Haslea bloom in the North River, which lies immediately to the east of Beaufort, North Carolina. The blue pigment of the Haslea diatom give Atlantic Emeralds™ their deep emerald green gills, and combine with the rich earthy flavors of the salt marsh to produce a merroir that is salty and rich in a veggie kind of way Clammerhead calls fluffy.
Our oysters contain the full range of genetic diversity found in the region's wild oysters – some grow large quickly and others grow slowly. We offer our slow growing oysters as the AE MiniBar™ line. Importantly, AE MiniBar™ oysters are not young-of-the-year, but older oysters that are the perfect cocktail-size Atlantic Emerald™, having thick shells and being easy to shuck.
The American Jade™ is a green-gill oyster grown in Core Sound and its neighboring bays and creeks, where their waters mix with clear waters flooding in from the Atlantic Ocean. In this region, Haslea blooms across wide shallow stretches of sandy bottom and sea grass meadows, giving American Jades™ a merroir slightly less salty and distinctly different from Atlantic Emeralds™ from the North River Marshes.
Wild Ponies™ start as spat settled from the waters of the Newport River just west of Beaufort, North Carolina, and lovingly nurtured on a large intertidal sandbar we call The Lump. The Lump is a special place where Wild Ponies™ grow as reef oysters before we free them to gently roll around in corrals among created intertidal oyster reefs. Wild Ponies™ harness the spirit of the Spanish ponies roaming free on nearby Carrot and Shackleford Islands. Wild Ponies™ channel the crisp, salty flavor of the Atlantic Ocean mixed with a wholesome sweet flavor imparted from the fresher waters of the upper Newport River that flow over The Lump on falling tides.