Caviar is a product made from salt-cured fish-eggs of the Acipenseridae family. The roe can be “fresh” (non-pasteurised) or pasteurised, with pasteurisation reducing its culinary and economic value
Traditionally the term caviar refers only to roe from wild sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas (Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga caviars). Depending on the country, caviar may also be used to describe the roe of other fish such as salmon, steelhead trout, trout, lumpfish, whitefish, and other species of sturgeon.
Caviar is considered a luxury delicacy and is eaten as a garnish or a spread. In 2012, caviar sold for $2,500 per pound, or $3,000 to $5,500 per kilo.
Varieties of Caviar
The four main types of caviar are Beluga, Sterlet, Ossetra, and Sevruga. The rarest and costliest is from beluga sturgeon that swim in the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Wild caviar production was suspended in Russia between 2008 and 2011 to allow wild stocks to replenish. Azerbaijan and Iran also allow the fishing of sturgeon off their coasts. Beluga caviar is prized for its soft, extremely large (pea-size) eggs. It can range in color from pale silver-gray to black. It is followed by the small golden sterlet caviar which is rare and was once reserved for Russian, Iranian and Austrian royalty. Next in quality is the medium-sized, gray to brownish osetra (ossetra), and the last in the quality ranking is smaller, gray sevruga caviar.
Cheaper alternatives have been developed from the roe of whitefish and the North Atlantic salmon. In the wake of overfishing, the harvest and sale of black caviar was banned in Russia in 2007 but resumed in 2010, limited to 150 kg (330 lbs).
In Scandinavia and Finland, a cheaper version of caviar is made from mashed and smoked cod roe (smörgåskaviar meaning “sandwich caviar”) sold in tubes as a sandwich spread, however this Swedish “Felix Sandwich Caviar” can not be called “Caviar” in Finland. Instead it is called “Felix Roe Paste”. When sold outside Scandinavia, the product is referred to as creamed smoked roe or in French as Caviar de Lysekil.
A sturgeon caviar imitation is a black or red coloured lumpsucker caviar sold throughout Europe in small glass jars. A more expensive alternative sold in Sweden and Finland is caviar from the vendace. In Finland caviars from burbot and common whitefish are also sold, however they are not sold as “Caviar”, since the word “Caviar” is exclusively reserved for sturgeon roe.
There is also a kosher caviar made of seaweeds.
Cultural references to Caviar
Given its high price in the West, caviar is associated with luxury and wealth. In Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, caviar is commonly served at holiday feasts, weddings and festive occasions. In Russia, both sturgeon roe (black caviar) and salmon roe (red caviar) are popular.
Sturgeon-derived caviar is not eaten by Kosher-observant Jews because sturgeon possess ganoid scales instead of the usual ctenoid and cycloid scales. There is a discussion of its status in Halacha, since the scales will come off if soaked in lye; however, this does not apply to every roe-yielding fish species.
The Ja’fari school of jurisprudence that predominates in Twelver Shia Islam also stipulates that seafood must have fins and scales. Thus most observant Twelvers do not eat caviar even though majority Twelver Iran is a primary centre of the sturgeon-fishing industry and the world’s largest exporter of caviar.
Storage and nutritional information
Caviar is extremely perishable and must be kept refrigerated until consumption. Pasteurised caviar has a slightly different texture. It is less perishable and may not require refrigeration before opening. Pressed caviar is composed of damaged or fragile eggs and can be a combination of several different roes. It is specially treated, salted, and pressed.
Although a spoonful of caviar supplies the adult daily requirement of vitamin B12, it is also high in cholesterol and salt.
1 tablespoon of caviar (16g) contains:
- Calories: 42
- Fat: 2.86 g
- Carbohydrates: 0.64 g
- Fibre: nil
- Protein: 3.94 g
- Sodium: 240 mg
- Cholesterol: 94 mg