For those who know nothing about caviar beyond the movies and gourmet food magazines, there are a lot of questions on the table.
How much does caviar cost? How is it made? What does it taste like? More specifically, many people want to know how salty caviar really is, since this is a flavor most commonly associated with the food.
The truth is that no matter what caviar you select, anywhere you are on the planet, the first taste that comes to mind will be salt. After all, it is the only other ingredient in this specialty food, aside from the eggs themselves.
Today we’re going to talk about salt levels in various caviar products.
We’ll cover why it is such an important part of the caviar production process, what other flavors you can expect when enjoying this elegant cuisine, and how garnishes can help you navigate the salty seas of caviar culture.
How Much Salt is in Caviar?
Look at the ingredients list on any caviar jar, and you will only see two ingredients listed: sturgeon roe (if it truly is authentic caviar) and salt.
Every since sturgeon eggs were first discovered thousands of years ago, ancient cultures in Persia, Greece, and Turkey found that adding a bit of briny water helped the eggs last longer and preserved the taste effectively.
This is a simple process known as curing and was crucial in the development of modern civilization. Because options for storing and cooling food were extremely limited before the 20th century, people aggressively cured meats, seafood, and even veggies to make them last.
With that said, modern caviar is far less salty that the sturgeon roe products of the past since we have the luxury of advanced refrigeration techniques and shipping infrastructure that can keep caviar fresh for longer— without overloading it with salt and preservatives.
Generally speaking, high-grade caviar contains less salt than lower grade products. If you come across Grade 1 caviar, the pearls will likely be full and firm, with virtually zero imperfections and only a small amount of salt used to preserve the eggs.
Grade 2 may contain more salt, but top-tier producers stick to the rule of using as little salt as possible for both grades. Look for the word “malossol” on the label to ensure that less than 5% salt is used in the curing process.
Things get saltier when you get into the pressed and pasteurized caviar categories. These products are more processed and designed for longer shelf lives, meaning more salt is necessary to make them last.
You shouldn’t be surprised, however, as this comes with the territory. Payusnaya caviar, for example, is quite a salty pressed caviar product that should be used sparingly to not overwhelm the palate on pasta dishes and proteins.
Typical payusnaya caviar contains around 10% salt and forms a jellylike cake structure.
It is also to be expected that canned or tinned caviar, which is almost always pasteurized, will contain higher salt levels to ensure a shelf life of up to a year. Regardless of salt content, you should aim to consume all caviar within a few days once the seal is broken.
Other Flavors to Consider
While salt is an easy flavor to pinpoint and certainly comes straight to mind for first-time caviar eaters, there is a wide world of different sensations to describe how caviar tastes.
The food is similar to wine in the sense that we use unique and sometimes unusual descriptors to illustrate the flavors in caviar, even though the same core ingredients are being discussed.
When reading caviar reviews, you will see products described as buttery, nutty, savory, smooth, herbaceous, earthy, and even sweet. Of course, taste is ultimately subjective, and everyone will experience caviar in their own way based on their palate and past experience.
Different Varieties, Different Tastes
The natural flavors of caviar are determined by many factors, including the species of sturgeon from which it came, the maturity of the female fish at the time of harvesting, and the environment it was raised.
Here is a brief rundown of the flavors you can expect from the major sturgeon species.
The most sought-after caviar in the world, and thus the most expensive. Beluga caviar is known for a rich taste and virtually no fishy flavor. Rarely found with a salt level of over 3%.
Smaller brown-golden pearls that contain natural sea-salt flavor with some light nuttiness and a crisp, clean finish. Commonly categorized as malossol with low added salt.
Earthy, buttery, and only mildly salty, these large golden-gray eggs are similar to beluga caviar and have a full flavor unlike any other variety.
More affordable than the “big three” sturgeon roe types, Sevruga is known for a more direct oceanic flavor and may contain salt content of over 5%.
While there is some debate surrounding the classification of American caviar, we typically include the Bowfin and Paddlefish species in this category, along with the more prestigious varieties.
Many of the flavor profiles are similar, and it is a prized addition to many menus. Expect some slightly higher salt content from American caviars.
Use Garnishes to Your Advantage
As much as you may love the natural saltiness of caviar and the tiny bit of extra bite you get from the curing process, sometimes the salt is a bit too much.
This is especially true of products that get into the 6 to 10 percent salt range, and you may want to cut some of that brine, so you aren’t reaching for your drink after every bite.
Thankfully, there are garnishes that can change your caviar’s flavor profile in a way that makes the salt less overwhelming.
A squirt of lemon is the most traditional way to balance out salt with some acidic citrus, and you don’t need much to make your caviar more palatable if it has higher salinity.
Alternatively, you can use dairy products like sour cream or creme fraiche to support the caviar on an unsalted cracker or piece of toast with butter.
The creamy coldness of the dairy is the perfect taste and texture to undercut some of the salt that naturally exists in caviar, and any excess sodium absorbed through the curing process.
Finally, some folks use chopped eggs (yolks and whites organized separately), potatoes, onions, or other simple starches and proteins to help diminish any overpowering salts and even out the experience on the palate.
How you choose to garnish your caviar will depend on your personal preferences and to what degree you want to directly experience the flavors of the product.
Whether you’re enjoying the world’s best caviar service at a Michelin Star restaurant or just indulging in some caviar on crackers in the home with some close friends, salt is going to be a primary flavor everyone experiences right out of the gate.
Once you become comfortable with the more nuanced flavors we described above, you will improve your vocabulary and be able to identify subtle tastes that distinguish one caviar from the next. Keep an open mind and remember, there are no wrong answers!
If you are curious to learn more about our unique caviar offerings or just need a professional opinion, make sure you stop by our FAQ page and leave a question or comment.
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