Only to be served to royalty back in the day, caviar is truly an exquisite luxury that will melt on your tongue taking your taste buds on a salty journey back to the ocean. Caviar is one of the most expensive foods found around the globe, enjoyed by many selling for up to $35,000 per kilo. Caviar comes from the fish species known as sturgeon which has been around for more than 250 million years. Due to the long and complicated history of caviar, many people think it is the same thing as fish eggs, but we are here to tell you that is not the case and could not be further from the truth!
If you are new to the caviar lifestyle, you may have done a little bit of research and might be wondering what the difference is between caviar and roe. This is such a common question as it causes quite a bit of confusion amongst many because the terms caviar and roe both refer to fish eggs. Many restaurants will attempt to label any fish roe they serve as caviar, but don’t let this fool you. Just like how a true glass of champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France, true caviar only comes from the roe of a sturgeon.
What is Fish Roe?
Fish roe, also known as sturgeon roe, is the term used for female fish eggs. Roe can come from various different fish such as salmon, trout, and mackerel. Fish roe has really grown in popularity as it is loaded with body nourishing nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D and B12, just to name a few. Also featured in many flavorful recipes, fish roe is an affordable option for those looking to incorporate something similar to caviar into their diet while avoiding the heavy price tag! When fish roe is sold in the US, it must properly identify the species of fish from where the roe was harvested.
What is Caviar?
Caviar isn't just the roe you find on top of your sushi in a United States restaurant. Caviar is so much more of a delicacy than that. It's a heavenly treat that is prized by many for being a luxurious delicacy around the world. Fish roe can come from any fish in the ocean where caviar exclusively comes from the fish eggs of a sturgeon. True sturgeon caviar consists of sturgeon eggs that are delicately salted and prepared by using the “Malossol” method. This is a technique known in Russia as the term “malossol” translates to “little salt”.
What is a Sturgeon?
A sturgeon is a fish that can be found dating back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. These fish can live up to 100 years with the ability to grow over 1000 pounds. Sturgeons come from the Acipenseridae family found mainly in the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, parts of the Pacific Northwest, the South Atlantic regions of North America and in large European lakes and rivers. There are 27 different species of sturgeon with 18 listed as endangered due to the overharvesting of roe for caviar.
What Types of Caviar Are There?
There is quite a variety of caviar out on the market. Some are better than others taste-wise and some are priced better than others. It’s all based on preference. Unlike the salmon roe, these are a few of the most traditional and popular caviars on the market today-
How is Caviar Harvested?
The highest quality caviar, such as Kaluga or the Beluga caviar, comes from the roe harvested as the females prepare to spawn. Timing is crucial when it comes to obtaining the best eggs from the fish because if you take the eggs too early, they will come out gooey and too soft. If you take the eggs too late, they tend to be an inedible milky mush. It varies with each species, but ideally the best time to harvest the eggs from a female sturgeon are approximately three days prior to spawn. This will ensure the roe is firm, taunt and of good consistency.
Once it is time to harvest the roe, the fish is cut open and the ovaries are washed gently. Roe is extremely delicate so this can be a very time consuming process. The ovaries are then opened and rubbed across a mesh screen to separate the eggs from the membrane. The eggs are then rinsed with cold water and salted. After roughly five to seven hours of salting, the eggs which have now transformed into caviar, are drained one more time on a wire net before getting packed into an airtight container to be enjoyed. Caviar must be refrigerated and has a shelf life of approximately two to four weeks. Once the caviar has been opened, the shelf life is reduced to two to three days.
Why is Caviar so Expensive?
Great question! First of all, wild sturgeon are currently endangered due to pollution, overfishing and general habit destruction. Secondly, female sturgeon only begin to produce eggs after several years, waiting until they reach full maturity. Lastly, most sturgeon fish that are born are male as very few female fish are born every few years making the ability to harvest fish eggs more and more challenging. Due to these reasons, caviar has become an extremely scarce and coveted delicacy costing a pretty penny to enjoy because true caviar only comes from the fish species of sturgeon. Like we mentioned earlier, there are 27 species of sturgeon and as of today, 18 of those species can be found on the endangered list. In the 19th century, caviar saturated the market and was sold for pennies. In fact, back in the day, caviar was sold for free by many restaurant shop owners because the saltiness would cause consumers to purchase beverages to quench their thirst! Sturgeon was plentiful and abundant at that time which is clearly not the case today making caviar one of the most expensive foods on the planet.
How is Caviar Served?
Caviar tastes best served cold, traditionally served on a chilled plate or on ice. Since the eggs are extremely fragile, it is best not to try and remove them from the tin to another serving containing. Very good quality caviar can be enjoyed as is taking a small spoonful to your mouth, savoring each explosion of flavor with every bite. If you wish to accompany your caviar with extra flavor, many people will serve it with lemon, sour cream, white or red onion, crème fraiche, or even cooked egg whites or hard boiled eggs.
Caviar is a special treat and is typically served with a special spoon. These spoons are made of ivory, bone, horn, or mother-of-pearl. Stay away from serving your caviar with reactive metals such as silver to avoid any metallic taste. If you would like to get fancy with your caviar and experience a truly authentic Russian treat, try a blini! A blini is a traditional pancake or crepe that is made using buckwheat flour. Scoop a spoonful of caviar onto the blini and top with a small dollop of sour cream. Feel free to sprinkle on chives or a squeeze from a lemon before rolling it into a loose wrap. Enjoy!
Caviar has been around for thousands of years and has a long complicated history, but it is truly an experience that should be enjoyed by everyone. Each bite is different from the next boasting with unwavering flavors that are to die for! If you are new to the caviar lifestyle then we highly recommend giving it a try! When taking your first bite, roll the roe alongside your tongue to really experience the full impact of the rich, buttery taste in your mouth. With a hint of salt from the ocean and an iconic ‘pop’ from each bite bursting with flavor, we know that once you give caviar a try, you will truly understand why it is such a luxurious delicacy!