There are only a few dishes in the world that are immediately associated with luxury, and 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 caviar can sell for up to $35,000 per kilo making it one of the most expensive foods in the world, but if you dive into the history of this delightful treat, you will quickly understand why!
What is Caviar?
Caviar is a heavenly delicacy that is enjoyed by many all around the world! Like a true champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, true caviar only comes from one fish in the world, sturgeon. A unique taste and texture like no other, caviar is as divine as it is heavenly bursting with flavors in every bite.
When a female sturgeon is about to spawn, her eggs are removed, washed and delicately salted turning the eggs into roe. Although many fish lay eggs that can be turned into a tasty roe, true caviar only comes from the roe produced by the eggs of a female sturgeon.
What is a sturgeon?
Sturgeon is a fish that comes from the Acipenseridae family. With 27 species of sturgeon, these fish are found mainly in the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, the South Atlantic regions of North America, parts of the Pacific Northwest and in large lakes and rivers in Europe. Although there are many different species, not all sturgeon eggs are created equal! The four most popular sturgeons producing the best caviar are known as Beluga, Kaluga (River Beluga), Almas (White Beluga), Osetra and Sevruga.
Also knows as the “river beluga”, a Kaluga Sturgeon is capable of growing to sizes over 18 feet weighing over 1,000 pounds! Caviar that comes from the Kaluga roe is smooth and firm with an earthy, buttery flavor featuring a mildly salty overtone. The kaluga caviar roe is large in size and can range in color from greenish brown to black.
Roe that comes from this sturgeon happens to be one of the most popular caviars found on the market due to having 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.
Osetra roe is the second-best caviar available on the market today following beluga and Kaluga (River Beluga). Osetra sturgeon produce medium sized eggs that range in color from light gray to dark or golden brown. This roe features a creamy and nutty rich flavor that melts on your tongue.
In Russia, the term Almas means diamond. The most exclusive type of caviar in the world comes from roe produced by an albino beluga sturgeon. These fish are found mostly on the Iranian side of the Caspian Sea and are extremely rare. The eggs are white, smooth and creamy leaving a distinctive nutty taste on your tongue.
Originating from the Caspian Sea, Beluga, also known as a huso huso, is considered to be the most luxurious and highly sought-after caviar in the world! Of all the sturgeons, this fish is the largest and happens to be the only carnivore of its species. Due to its immense size, beluga caviar produces the largest fish eggs making it highly desired by many. The eggs range in color from light grey to black and are considered by caviar connoisseurs all around the globe to be one of life’s greatest pleasures! 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.
With 27 species of sturgeon, caviar from Beluga is by far the most expensive, but why?
The world’s best caviar comes from Russian beluga sturgeon caviar. This is one of the oldest fish that can be found dating back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth! The female sturgeon can live over 110 years and does not produce fish eggs until fully matured, which can take up to 20 years. Due to the incredibly long reproduction cycle, obtaining beluga roe for caviar can be quite the waiting game, causing an increase in price to purchase it, however the slow reproduction cycle is only part of the reason as to why beluga caviar is so costly…
History of Beluga Caviar
Caviar has an extremely interesting back story. There once was a time when caviar was only served to those of 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 and eventually was picked up by Russia, later catapulting caviar into the world of divine luxury. Caviar began to take over Europe and was viewed as a treat that was prize by almost every culture.
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 marky US waters, Schacht was able to sell it at a fraction of the cost compared to what is was being sold for in Europe. The west coast got wind of this 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 U.S. was producing approximately 90% of the worlds caviar with 40% coming 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 water. 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.
In 2004, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the beluga sturgeon as a threatened species. Even with this announcement, the wild beluga population continued to dwindle due to people still overfishing this species to harvest their oh-so tasty buttery roe. In 2005, the United States banned the sale and import of this highly prized fish and its heavenly rich eggs.
To this day, the beluga ban is still in effect making it illegal to import beluga caviar into the USA. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must inspect all caviar that comes into the Unites States 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 sturgeon and destroying their habitat in the Caspian Sea, a ban was placed on beluga caviar in 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 beluga caviar not possible to obtain here in the U.S, but with the help of sturgeon farms, the future is starting to look bright!
Farm Raised Sturgeon
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, it is very time consuming and expensive to farm sturgeon. Today, sturgeon farms are found all over the world with 51 farms found within 15 countries throughout Europe, 21 farms in the United States, 10 found in France, 8 in Germany, 6 in Italy and 5 in Spain and several more across Asia.
The Best 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. It’s a true delicacy and an experience in itself when enjoyed. It’s consider the highest grade hybrid caviar in the world and one of the highest grade Caviar’s one can have in the USA; It’s buttery and mild taste resembles very well the taste of Beluga.
How to Enjoy Caviar?
Whether you're enjoying caviar in New York or Iran, it can be agreed that caviar is a true delight that everyone should be able to experience. Not only is it a super delicious treat, but caviar 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 of the metallic flavors. 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 as is. Roll up the blini and enjoy!