There are only a few dishes in the world that are immediately associated with luxury. Although not many people have been given the opportunity to experience it, caviar is a coveted delicacy that will transport your taste buds to the ocean with every mouth-watering bite.
At first glance, you might wonder how something like true high-quality caviar can sell for up to $35,000 per kilo — making it one of the most expensive foods in the world. However, if you dive into the history of this delightful treat, you will quickly understand why!
Beluga sturgeon, or huso huso as it's also called, originate from the Caspian Sea. They have strong bony plates covering their bodies, shark-like tails and long snouts. Of all the sturgeon species, this fish is the largest and happens to be the only carnivore of its species. Beluga sturgeon is also one of the oldest fish, dating back 200 million years to when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Beluga have a similar life cycle to salmon, hatching in freshwater and spending most of their adult life in saltwater. When it comes time to spawn, they travel upriver to lay eggs in freshwater. The life span of the female sturgeon can exceed 110 years, but they do not begin producing eggs until they are around 20 years old, when they are fully mature.
As one of the largest species of fish, the roe from Beluga sturgeon is large and highly desired by caviar connoisseurs worldwide.
Other Types of Sturgeon
Four other types of sturgeon produce roe used in caviar:
Kaluga sturgeon: Also known as the "River Beluga," a Kaluga Sturgeon is capable of growing to sizes over 18 feet and weighing over 1,000 pounds. Caviar that comes from the kaluga roe is smooth and firm with an earthy, buttery flavor. It also has a mildly salty overtone. The kaluga caviar roe can range in color from greenish-brown to black.
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- Sevruga sturgeon: Roe that comes from this sturgeon happens to be one of the most popular caviars found on the market because it has a faster reproduction cycle than its cousins. Sevruga roe is small and fragile, ranging in color from grey to black. It delivers a smooth and buttery flavor with a hint of saltiness.
Ossetra sturgeon: Ossetra roe is the second-best caviar available on the market today, following Beluga and Kaluga. Ossetra sturgeon produce medium-sized eggs that range in color from light gray to dark or golden brown. This roe features a creamy, rich and nutty flavor that melts on your tongue.
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- Almas sturgeon: In Russia, the term Almas means diamond. The roe from the Almas sturgeon, the albino Beluga sturgeon, is the most exclusive type of caviar in the world. You can find these extremely rare fish in the Caspian Sea, closest to Iran. Almas sturgeon eggs are white and smooth in appearance and have a creamy, nutty taste.
With 27 species of sturgeon, caviar from Beluga is by far the most expensive, but why?
Beluga caviar is highly sought-after and one of the most luxurious food products in the world. Russian Beluga sturgeon produce the world's best caviar. Due to the incredibly long reproduction cycle, obtaining beluga roe for caviar can be quite the waiting game, causing an increase in the price of purchasing it. However, the slow reproduction cycle is only part of the reason why Beluga caviar is so costly.
Beluga eggs range in color from light grey to black. Each bite of Beluga caviar will take you on a journey to the sea, melting on your tongue, allowing you to truly savor and enjoy the taste.
History of Beluga Caviar
Caviar has an extremely interesting back story. There once was a time when caviar was only served to royalty. The British kings of the middle ages reserved all of the Beluga sturgeon for their own consumption calling it the "Royal Fish." It didn't take long for word to spread about this delicious roe. The practice of eating caviar spread to Russia, later catapulting caviar into the world of divine luxury. Caviar eventually began its takeover of Europe, and many cultures prized this delicacy as a treat.
Originally, Native American tribes relied on the abundant populations of sturgeon as a major food source, especially the tribes of the Great Lakes region. With the arrival of European settlers, who preferred lake trout and herring, sturgeon fish came to be viewed as a pest that destroyed fishing nets, so commercial fishermen often exterminated them. In 1873, a German immigrant named Henry Schacht developed the first caviar business in America on the Delaware River, thus changing the world of caviar forever.
Due to the abundance of sturgeon found in murky waters, Schacht was able to sell the roe at a fraction of the cost compared to the European market. The west coast got wind of this caviar gold mine Schacht was sitting on and began to harvest roe as well. Eventually, more and more businesses began to harvest roe, and by the 19th century, the United States was producing approximately 90% of the world's caviar. Almost 40% of that caviar came from Beluga, making it the most heavily fished sturgeon of the 27 species.
Back in the day, Beluga caviar was sold in the U.S. for pennies due to the abundance of sturgeon fish found in the waters. In fact, many shops and saloons gave Beluga caviar out for free because the saltiness of the roe made consumers thirsty, forcing them to purchase food and water.
Everything was going just swimmingly up until the start of the 20th century when 18 of the 27 species of sturgeon made their way onto the endangered list due to being overfished. Can you guess which species was at the top? If you guessed Beluga, you are correct.
Today, the Beluga sturgeon is more critically endangered than almost any other species. Even with this classification, the wild Beluga population continued to dwindle for a long time due to people still overfishing this species to harvest their oh-so-tasty buttery roe. In 2005, the U.S. banned the sale and import of this highly prized fish and its heavenly rich eggs.
To this day, Beluga caviar is still banned, making it illegal to import Beluga caviar. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must inspect all caviar that comes into the U.S., making sure it is labeled correctly and that it is not caviar made from Beluga roe.
Is It Possible to Get Beluga Caviar?
Due to overfishing and the destruction of the sturgeon's natural habitat in the Caspian Sea, conservation authorities placed a ban on Beluga caviar in the hopes of one day being able to remove them from the endangered species list. As of today, they are still highly vulnerable to extinction, making it impossible to obtain Beluga caviar here in the U.S. However, with the help of sturgeon farms, the future is starting to look bright!
How Farm-Raised Sturgeon Are Supporting the Caviar Industry
As wild sturgeon stocks and caviar production begin to decrease, the global demand for caviar has increased, sending the prices for this delicacy through the roof. Thank goodness for ambitious farmers that have taken on the challenge of raising sturgeon. Unfortunately, due to the many years that it takes females to produce eggs for caviar, sturgeon caviar production is very time-consuming and expensive.
Today, sturgeon farms are found all over the world. There are 21 farms in the U.S. and 51 farms found in 15 countries throughout Europe, including 10 in France, eight in Germany, six in Italy and five in Spain. There are also several farms across Asia.
What's the Best Alternative to Beluga Caviar?
With so many caviar options out there and so many ways to enjoy caviar, there is a choice for everyone. However, the rising star that never disappoints is the Kaluga hybrid caviar. The Kaluga hybrid caviar is a combination of the River Beluga Roe and Amur Roe. When combined, this caviar is without a doubt one of the most delicious caviars your taste buds will try.
Kaluga hybrid caviar is a true delicacy and an experience in itself when enjoyed. It's considered the highest grade hybrid caviar in the world and one of the highest grade caviars one can have in the U.S., as it closely resembles the buttery and mild taste of Beluga sturgeon caviar.
Enjoy Available Types of Caviar for Sale Online
Whether you're enjoying caviar in New York or Iran, pretty much everyone can agree that caviar is a true delight that everyone should be able to experience. Caviar is a delicious treat, but it is also a great source of vitamins and minerals, making it as healthy as it is divine.
If you are trying caviar for the first time, we highly recommend using a special mother-of-pearl spoon to make sure your caviar does not absorb any metallic flavors from metal spoons. Take a small spoonful into your mouth and roll the grains onto your tongue, truly savoring all the flavors from this special luxury! Many people will enjoy caviar as is, but feel free to incorporate complementary flavors such as chives, lemon, sour cream or onion.
Another great way to enjoy caviar is either on a cracker, creme fraiche or a blini! A blini is authentic to Russia and is simply a thin pancake or crepe. Scoop a dollop of caviar on top of a warm blini and sprinkle on chives. You can add butter or sour cream to enhance the creamy texture or just leave it as is. Simply roll up the blini and enjoy!
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Imperia Caviar sources our caviar from responsible and sustainable caviar farms, where sturgeon thrive in a nearly wild environment. Because we know how overharvesting and habitat destruction impacted the Beluga sturgeon species, we're committed to ensuring all sturgeon species last through responsible, ethical farming practices.
Although Beluga caviar is illegal to buy and sell in the U.S., you can order our Kaluga Hybrid Reserve caviar, which is the closest alternative in flavor and texture. Shop online to browse our available caviar. Are you a connoisseur that wants to enjoy caviar regularly? Join our caviar club and receive monthly or bimonthly deliveries of caviar with no-cost shipping.
Last Updated 9/15/22