So much of the caviar conversation is focused on flavor, but let’s not overlook the fact that this delicacy has one of the most unique textures of any food in the world.
Connoisseurs use many different phrases and expressions to describe caviar texture, and their assessments will vary greatly depending on factors like fish type, region, season, aquaculture, storage, and more.
Let’s talk about how we make sense of texture when tasting caviar and get a better understanding of why each type of caviar has a totally different feel.
Classic Caviar Textures
Caviar is defined as cured sturgeon roe, which is manually harvested and packaged to be served as fresh as possible. While there are 27 different species of sturgeon on the planet, only a handful are known for their caviar.
Sturgeon species is the biggest determinant of caviar texture and each of the major types has varying levels of firmness, fullness, graininess, melt, and pop. Let’s look at the most common caviar sturgeon species and how they vary in terms of texture.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of getting hung up on price and exclusivity, and enjoy each caviar for what it is. Figure out which texture and flavor combo you like best, and find a purveyor that delivers the best quality for the price.
Why Season Is Important
We all know that sturgeon species is the primary factor in anticipating the texture of a caviar product, but the season during which those eggs were harvested also plays a major role in the firmness and popping effect of the pearls.
In the fall and winter months, sturgeons swim in colder water, meaning their eggs undergo a slight refrigeration effect at the time of harvesting. The pearls, therefore, tend to be firmer and are more likely to burst under pressure.
When waters warm up in spring and summer, the exact same sturgeon will yield more supple and tender eggs, which may not pop as readily. Instead, these caviars will be more melty and buttery in texture, although curing and refrigeration can reverse this slightly.
Compare “winter” caviar side by side with “summer” caviar and you’ll detect some noticeable differences in the firmness and pop of the pearls.
If you take your caviar very seriously, keep a pulse on the regions of the world where things are heating up or cooling down during different seasons. This will ensure you always buy caviar with the texture you desire and are never let down by your preferred producer.
Other Key Factors
Aside from seasonality and species, the texture of caviar will be impacted by the production process itself, with the skill and experience of the producers playing a key role.
Keep in mind that all caviar is manually harvested, and there is both an art and science to the process. The way that eggs are removed from the sturgeon and separated from their membranes is crucial to maintaining the ideal texture and avoiding broken eggs.
The freshness of the product and storage method can impact caviar’s texture as well, namely in the salt levels and curing processes. Top-tier beluga and osetra caviars are known for minimal salt content, also called “malossol” preparations, which let the natural flavors and textures of the eggs shine through.
Less prestigious caviars may have higher salt content (between 5 and 10 percent), which promotes a firmer exterior of the pearls and results in more pop. As you get down to cheaper capelin and salmon roes, you will hear a loud sound with every bite!
There’s nothing wrong with spending less on fish roe to enjoy that exciting texture, but expect a slightly saltier flavor to accompany that pop and crackle.
If you are serving caviar to a large party or working it into pasta or pizza, consider pasteurized products which are far more affordable and tend to have a distinctive crunch. These eggs are cooked at low temps to kill off bacteria and extend shelf life, with a decent amount of salt added for good measure.
Don’t hesitate to buy whichever caviar you want, since each one has a time and place!
To do your part in preserving perfect texture, always follow the rule that caviar must not be stored for more than a few weeks in the fridge. Upon opening your jar or tin, be sure to eat it all within 48 hours so as not to compromise the product’s texture.
Pair with the Right Accoutrements
Remember that there isn’t a specific caviar texture considered superior to others. While some people live and die by the “pop”, others find it much more pleasant to have the pearls meld together in the mouth and reduce to a creamy, buttery texture.
It’s all about preference, and you should learn to appreciate all types of caviar for what they do best, rather than attempting to rank them by objective standards.
That being said, you should eat more expensive, creamy caviars with minimal accompaniment, and enjoy the textures and flavors on their own. There’s no need to bake puff pastry or potato wedges to pair with your pricey osetra caviar. The product should speak for itself.
Things get more interesting when you have a larger volume of snappy, crunchy caviar, or roe to work with. You can experiment with texture clashes (think blini, avocado, onion, and egg) to come up with exciting snacks that will entertain crowds for hours.
As a general rule, the more money you spend on caviar, the less amount of garnishes and extra flavors you should add to the equation.
The caviar experience is visual, sensual, and narrative-driven. There are so many factors at play, and texture is just one of them. Whether you like a smooth, melty feel or crave that crunch and pop, there are plenty of caviars and roes to choose from, so go find your favorite one.