People love caviar for many reasons. The luxurious labels, the glistening beads of gold and grey, the royal ritual of serving caviar on mother-of-pearl spoons – plus, it’s healthy.
But none of that would matter if the product itself wasn’t enjoyable to eat! The taste of caviar is the main event.
If you’re just figuring out the lay of the land in the world of caviar, you might be wondering which type tastes best. You’re in the right place because, in this article, we’re talking about the most flavorful and tantalizing caviar types on the market now.
Tasting Caviar: Key Factors
The process of tasting caviar is so much more than just taking a bite and moving on to the next snack. You’ve got to lean into the experience and explore the many unique qualities of the caviar on your palate.
Here are the three main elements to consider when tasting caviar – they all add up to a sum greater than its parts.
Before you even process the flavors of the caviar on your tongue, you’ll notice more visceral physical sensations like the firmness and shape of the beads themselves.
The best tasting caviar features a slightly firm texture, with consistent spherical shapes in each scoop. Grade 1 caviar is known for its uniformity, which adds to the distinctive mouthfeel of eating many eggs at once.
Perhaps the most important aspect of texture is the signature bursting sensation when eggs are crushed against the roof of the mouth or by the teeth. The world’s most exclusive caviars deliver a significant pop without ever being considered crunchy or chewy.
Other caviars are better described as “melt-in-your-mouth” – a pleasing texture in itself. Some caviar connoisseurs like a more gentle dissolution of the eggs, while others live for the explosion of every pearl on the palate.
One thing is for sure: great caviar is never mushy, and some degree of firmness is desired.
Describing the flavors of caviar requires you to connect with your senses and dive deep into your culinary vocabulary. It’s similar to how people discuss fine wine or aged cheese – you’re encouraged to get creative and use terms that would otherwise be deemed unusual at the dinner table.
For instance, one might use terms like “buttery” or “nutty” to describe the impression of richness or fat when tasting caviar, while others will get more specific and bring up certain herbs and fruits.
Don’t balk if you hear a caviar pro use terms like “earth” or “wood.” Some eccentrics will even mention “forest floor” or “musk and mushroom.” It’s all part of the experience.
You’ll also need some better terms to describe salt, which tends to be a predominant flavor in caviar. Try saying “briny” or “oceanic.” Minerality is also fair game. As long as you’re being honest in your representation of the flavors, there are really no wrong answers.
Sweetness, creaminess, herbaceous and floral notes – these are just a few of the things you can expect from a fine caviar, so open your mind and enjoy the flood of flavor.
Once those pearls burst on the palate and absorb into the tastebuds, you’ll notice that the flavors linger and change slightly several seconds after the bite is gone. You might even take a sip of champagne or vodka and discover that more flavors have been revealed.
This part of the tasting experience is known as the finish, and it’s something that separates top-notch caviar from lesser forms of sturgeon and fish roe.
Think of the finish as the encore after you’ve dissolved and swallowed every pearl. How long do the flavors remain intact? How do they change or evolve in terms of character and complexity?
What do you perceive from your sense of smell as this all happens? Get all the senses engaged.
Not all great caviars have a long finish. Some are shorter, more delicate, and leave the palate with a clean and fresh feel. Once again, it comes down to preference when deciding on your own personal favorite. Just another reason to try more caviar!
The Big Five Caviar Types
Now that you know how to navigate the experience of tasting fine caviar, let’s talk about the five main types and how they taste.
Remember that caviar type refers to the sturgeon that yields the eggs, while other grades, ranks, and designations are created by companies to organize and market their product lines.
When in doubt, purchase caviar based on the type of sturgeon and look for distinguishing features when tasting.
The big, bad Beluga is the world’s most rare and highly desired sturgeon, yielding some of the largest and most decadent pearls.
Beluga has been overfished and poached in its native region of the Caspian Sea that its caviar is illegal to import to the United States. However, the next time you attend a royal celebration in the East, be sure to ask for a scoop of Beluga.
If you do manage to get a taste, expect a smooth and buttery flavor with some slight sweetness and a clean finish. No fishiness or overwhelming salt here.
Top-tier Royal Ossetra caviar is the closest we’ll get to Beluga in the US, so don’t miss it.
“Rich” is the word that comes to mind first when experiencing caviar. Ossetra eggs contain high-fat content and coat the palate as you crush and pop the pearls.
You’ll also notice some more complexity with Ossetra, with a wider range of earthy, herbal, and fruity notes on top of a buttery base layer.
You may hear Kaluga referred to as “River Beluga” since this species is thought to be the world’s largest freshwater sturgeon.
These days, you’ll often find Kaluga Hybrid Reserve, which is a blend of Kaluga and Shassetra sturgeons. It’s more accessible, sustainable, and downright delicious as well – everyone wins!
When tasting Kaluga caviar, you’ll notice an exceptional balance of flavors and rich, creamy texture with each individual pearl.
This is a bold caviar for sure and packs a punch on the palate. Be ready with a nice cold glass of champagne.
We go back to the Caspian Sea for Sevruga, whose caviar delivers a ton of flavor despite the sturgeon’s small size.
If you’re looking for intense and distinctive flavors, Sevruga is for you. Expect lots of butter, brine, herbs, and minerals with each bite and a long finish to keep you interested.
Since the eggs tend to be smaller, you’ll also get a unique texture with more beads per bite. Sevruga is worth a closer look if you’re in the mood for something fresh and novel.
It might not have the royal reputation of the other main types, but American caviar holds its own in terms of flavor and texture. The flavors are clean and untarnished, with less salt and more diverse fruits and herbs on the forefront.
American caviars come in many subcategories, so it’s a great place to start your journey and explore the different flavors you encounter on the way.
The Best Tasting Caviar Awaits You
Caviar is a treat for all five senses, yet taste reigns supreme. We’ve given you many tools to work with when tasting caviar to make it a more engaging and exciting experience. Now, it’s time to start sourcing your next (or first) jar.
Remember to do your research, find a reputable vendor, and serve your favorite caviar the right way.
Follow our tips and make the most of every last pearl!