Caviar is the salted roe, or eggs, of certain large fish, especially members of the sturgeon family. Caviar is served as a gourmet delicacy; the eggs, either whole or pressed, are usually served slightly chilled. Sturgeon eggs are either black or slate gray, depending on the species. Red caviar is made from the roe of salmon, especially chum and silver salmon.
After the eggs are removed from the ovaries, they are strained and salted before being packaged. The amount of salt added depends on the quality of the eggs. The best quality roe is only slightly salted and is called malossol.
About 95% of the black caviar in the United States is imported from Iran, where the sturgeon is caught along the shores of the Caspian Sea. The three main species producing black caviar are the beluga, which has the largest eggs; the osetra, which has medium-sized eggs; and the sevruga, which has the smallest eggs. Of the more than 66 tons (60 metric tons) of caviar imported from Iran each year, most is preserved and pasteurized and sold in jars. The rest is sold fresh. Until 1954 about 90% of all the sturgeon caviar in the United States was imported from Russia. That year, however, trade agreements between Iran and Russia were not renewed, and American importers, instead of continuing to obtain caviar from Russia, provided a new market for Iranian caviar.
Red caviar sold in the United States comes mostly from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. About 350,000 pounds (59,000 kg) of this type of caviar are consumed in the United States each year.