Everything You Want to Know About 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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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
Have you ever indulged in caviar?
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.