Turf to Surf: If Terroir Is a Thing, What About “Meroir”?

Next time you’re quickly slurping down an oyster shooter don’t forget to take note of the subtle characteristics brought forth by waters in which that oyster was raised. Meroir, a word coined by a Seattle Times writer back in 2003 and circulated ever since, is the marine version of terroir, which is a group of characteristics in wine or food influenced by the soil and climate they grew in. Do we really need this term though?

Meroir, much like its dirty linguistic counterpart, defines how external factors influence the developing taste of marine-raised food items. Terroir makes sense: Certain wine grapes need specific climates to grow, and different climates yield different-tasting grapes. For example, an Oregonian Pinot Noir is much subtler and smoother-tasting than one made from the sun-blasted, fruitier grapes of its Californian neighbor.

Get the MythBusters on the phone, we need to do an experiment. Farming the exact same species of oyster in differing salinities and temperature could not result in a big enough taste difference to warrant making up yet another culinary term. I’m sure there is some taste difference if you ate the oysters right out of the ocean, but most people won’t. They’ll devour the mollusks at some overpriced seafood restaurant where the oyster sommelier will describe the Kumamotos tonight as having a slight aftertaste of radiation.

Of course there will be taste differences in foods grown under different circumstances, but if the culinary snobs around the world accept the term meroir, then a proper term for an oyster sommelier should be coined. Sure, it would be ridiculous and like most terminology unnecessary, but if we include meroir in our lexicon then there’s room for more of these extraneous words. One benefit of using meroir, though, is drawing attention to how seafood is raised. Maybe as ridiculous as the word is, it could do some good and help bring better aquaculture practices to our ever-dwindling sea populations.

Brian Staffield has been interested in food ever since he was a child experimenting in the kitchen. He received his Bachelors of Arts in English from Oregon State University, and continues his passion for food and writing at his blog, Cooking with B.S., and on CHOW.

Oyster photo by Chris Rochelle