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Everything You Want to Know About Caviar!

Updated on September 2, 2013
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Luxury Caviar

What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of luxury food? If you simultaneously thought of caviar, I'd have to completely agree with you, considering its price tag of up to $400 per ounce, or $14 a gram.

Caviar is one of those luxurious food items that's completely exotic to many. It's definitely an acquired taste but to me personally, it's synonymous with family gatherings, parties and overall good times because I grew up eating black or red ikra (caviar) slathered on white bread and butter or rolled into blini (pancakes) at family gatherings. I love how with every bite, each orange jelly-looking ball or smaller grayish/black ball pops delightfully in your mouth as you put pressure on it and this fishy flavored liquid burst out, enhancing the bread or pancake and completely transforming the taste to a whole new level. I can also totally see though how fish eggs can be something that's hard to get used to and be flat out gross as some of my friends see it.

How much do you know about caviar? Do you know where it comes from and the best ways of eating it? This guide will break down everything you may ever want to know about this little delicacy.

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What is Caviar?

The word caviar comes from the Persian word khaviar, and is a variation to the Persian khaya-dar, which literally means “having eggs".

Caviar is usually served as an hors d'oeuvre.

Caviar refers to salted fish eggs (roe) - but not just any type of fish, specifically of the sturgeon species. The most famous types of sturgeon species' caviar are:

  • Beluga
  • Sevruga
  • Osetra

Fish eggs from other species actually cannot be called caviar unless they have the species' name labeled in front of the word caviar. This is common with Salmon caviar.

Sturgeon Lifespan

Sturgeon can live to be 150 years old and some species don't begin to bear eggs until around the age of 25!

Different Kinds of Sturgeon Roe

  • Beluga Caviar is not only the the most expensive type of caviar, it's also the most expensive food item in the world! It is the largest, rarest and most prized kind of sturgeon roe. Beluga caviar's color ranges from purple to black, but the most expensive is the one with a pearly white color, called Almas. The Almas actually requires a Beluga sturgeon that's 60-80 years old!

    Beluga is best served on its own or on a simple piece of toast. Believe me, you will not need anything to improve its rich, creamy flavor and delicate texture. It's best to handle this type of roe with mother-of-pearl or ivory utensils.

  • Sevruga caviar has a light gray color, a creamy texture and a strong flavor.

  • Osetra caviar sometimes has a golden caviar, making it highly prized, but generally, Osetra caviar has a brownish color. This type of caviar has a distinctive nutty flavor.

North America also has some high quality caviar. Specifically, the

  • Hackleback sturgeon and the
  • White sturgeon, are similar to Osertra and Sevruga caviar. Both have a buttery texture and a mild, nutty flavor.

If you're looking for something less expensive, then you will need to go with fish other than sturgeon. Check out the following:

  • Paddlefish roe and
  • Bowfin roe, which have a bolder, earthier flavor.
  • Salmon roe is the most affordable kind. It's the caviar that looks like bright orange gooey balls and are larger in size then other caviar. Salmon roe has a fishier taste, rather than a buttery texture.
  • Whitefish roe is also orange but is smaller in size.

Malossol means “lightly salted,” in Russian. It's a way of preserving the roe that doesn't alter the taste much, like the normally salted roe gets.

Caviar, as fast food?

In Moscow, vending machines were installed across the city in 2010 that dispense glass jars of red salmon caviar - at prices ranging between $5 and $22, depending on the size.

I can't imagine but if that's what caters to the local market, then hey!

What is the Best Caviar?

The best caviar is considered to be the Beluga caviar. This caviar type is the scarcest, most expensive and most unsustainable.

Due to recent bans on Beluga caviar, alternatives have been sought out. Some American caviar is considered to be of very high quality and has been compared favorably to wild Caspian caviar. Namely, Hackleback and White sturgeon is very similar to Osetra and Sevruga sturgeon.

Blini with sour cream and red caviar
Blini with sour cream and red caviar | Source

Ideal Way of Serving Caviar

The ideal temperature to serve caviar is ice-cold. You should fill the bottom section of a serving dish with ice and place the caviar over it.

Do not serve caviar in metal dishes or with metal utensils. Metal gives caviar a metallic taste, which you want to avoid. Ideally, as utensils, you will want to use mother-of-pearl or ivory.

Although the ideal way to eat caviar is straight from a mother of pearl spoon, if you're throwing a party where you're serving caviar as an hors d'oeuvre, you don't want your guests to be spoon feeding themselves this luxury. Some great ways to serve caviar to guests are:

  • On small pieces of toasts/bread with unsalted butter
  • Over a slide of cucumber
  • With blini (Russian crapes)
  • On top of deviled eggs / scrambled eggs

Wondering what sort of drinks to serve with caviar? Go with ice-cold vodka, champagne, or chilled white wine.

Health Benefits of Caviar

Caviar isn't only an extravagant hors d'oeuvre, it also has wonderful health benefits.

One teaspoon of caviar contains about a gram of omega-3 and it's a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, several B vitamins and amino acid.

Caviar from the Caspian: Beluga tins are on the left, Ossetra tins are in the center, and Sevruga are on the right
Caviar from the Caspian: Beluga tins are on the left, Ossetra tins are in the center, and Sevruga are on the right | Source

Sturgeon From the Caspian Sea

Russia and Iran, two countries bordering the Caspian Sea are the main producers of caviar worldwide. Although, sturgeon is also found in other countries, including North America, China, and France. In recent year, other countrires began to increasingly produce caviar.

Major importers of caviar from the Caspian Sea are: the United States (20%), Switzerland, Japan, and the European Union (mostly France, Belgium, Germany, and the UK).

In recent years, overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, black market trading, and poaching has depleted wild populations of sturgeon from the Caspian sea.

Since 2001, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, banned international trade of wild caviar from the Caspian. This has spurred the growth of sturgeon farms in North America, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.

The Caspian Sea is home to the Beluga sturgeon

A markerBeluga sturgeon is native to the Caspian Sea -
Caspian Sea
get directions

When you're looking to buy caviar, look for a "Friend of the Sea" eco-label. A study conducted by the Seafood Ecology Group has found this to be the ‘best eco-label for aquaculture’
When you're looking to buy caviar, look for a "Friend of the Sea" eco-label. A study conducted by the Seafood Ecology Group has found this to be the ‘best eco-label for aquaculture’ | Source

Have you ever indulged in caviar?

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Sustainable Aquaculture for Sustainable Caviar

Sturgeon caviar species from the Caspian Sea (Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga) are the most expensive and the least sustainable types of caviar. In fact, these species are at the brink of extension! They have been around since the dinosaur age but due to overfishing, pollution (causing high levels of mercury in fish) and poaching, they're nearly gone. Their supply has depleted by 52 percent since 1989 and are expected to further deplete by 1.5 percent annually until 2020.

Since 2005, Beluga sturgeon has been protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and importing Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea into the United States is illegal.

Domestic North American caviar is a more sustainable option because it is farmed, not caught in the wild, usually using aquaculture methods.

Two varieties of American sturgeon are very similar to Osetra and Sevruga - the White sturgeon and Hackleback sturgeon. Both have a buttery texture and a mild, nutty flavor.

In recent years, fish farmers have been developing more sustainable egg-harvesting techniques. Traditionally, fish farmers killed the sturgeon for their roe but new techniques avoids killing them. New techniques of getting roe include a biopsy or ultrasound to find out whether the fish is ready to spawn.

Do you have any comments? I'd love to hear them!

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      DebMartin 2 years ago

      Great info. Caviar has always interested me because I am an avid fisherwoman. But it's way out of my price range. I do eat the eggs though of some of the fish I catch. I love frying up the egg sacs in the Jumbo Perch I catch. I'll hold out for the day I get to try a little Caviar.

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      emma 4 years ago

      Thank you for the information. I've had caviar on my sushi and fell in love. So while I was at the liquor store I picked up a small jar of Lumpfish Caviar. Was looking for a unique way to eat it. Definitely going to try it out on my eggs!!

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      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Clevercat - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you'll get a chance to try caviar soon and I'm really curious to know what you think.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wow, I had no idea about the health benefits of caviar, although it does makes perfect sense.

      I haven't had the chance to try caviar yet, but it's definitely on my to do list. I've also read that a plastic spoon, while not as classy, pretty, or traditional as mother of pearl, will do in a pinch. I guess it's time for me to try to find white or hackleback here in the States!

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      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Rebecca - I'm glad to hear that the hub cleared things up for you... and the next time you have caviar, you'll wow some people with your knowledge of different caviar!

      Angela - mmm my mouth also waters when I think of caviar, hehe. Especially crepes with caviar.

      Jenubouka - Lucky you for having tried Beluga caviar! Thanks for stopping by and your nice comment.

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      jenubouka 5 years ago

      Love, love caviar; I have been spoiled and actually have tried the beluga kind. Wow, what a treat. You wrote such an awesome hub that answers all the questions those who are not familiar with caviar would and need to know. Thumbs up!

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      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      UGH I love caviar! How dare you? My mouth is watering! LOL!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I have had caviar once and really loved it. I knew it was fish eggs of some sort but this really clears things up.Great Hub. Voted up, interesting and Shared!

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      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Teresa - I was also really surprised that caviar is sold in vending machines in Russia. It just seems too luxurious of food for a vending machines but to each is own! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I can't believe caviar can be bought from vending machines in Moscow. It must be uber popular over there. The idea of eating fish eggs does not appeal to me but I did enjoy learning some new facts about Caviar.

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      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Kalmiya: I was also really surprised to find out that they sell caviar in vending machines in Moscow! It seems mind boggling to me that they'd sell such an exotic food in an automated machine that's meant for people to have a small snack. If you have a chance, try some other types of caviar because some have a much less fishy taste and is more buttery.

      Melbel: I can totally see you at a swanky event munching on a cracker topped with beluga caviar :)

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      Melanie Shebel 5 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      Wow! This is really cool! I've had salmon roe quite a few times and have had a black colored caviar only once or twice before. I really like it and I definitely wouldn't mind trying Beluga someday. :)

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      Kalmiya 5 years ago from North America

      Wow, they sell caviar by vending machine in Moscow! Have tried a black caviar in the past but it is much too salty. I associate Beluga caviar with James Bond movies :) Thanks for the detailed caviar info.

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      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Thanks, Denise for stopping by and commenting.

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      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      Very interesting. I didn't know much about caviar other than the fact that Beluga is the most highly regarded and expensive. I admit, I remain squeamish. It looks a lot like fish bait. But, I still appreciate all of the great info!