More Caviar Facts

More Caviar Facts

March 27, 2020

Interesting facts about caviar

In my last post, I presented to you a short history on caviar, promising to come back with some more interesting information about this delicacy.

Here they are.

Caviar is known as one of the oldest delicacies. Before raw oysters, Champagne, and even truffles were considered a delicacy, caviar was desired by kings and the aristocracy. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Russian tsars were all known to go crazy for caviar.

According to Britannica, “Caviar is graded according to the size of the eggs and the manner of processing. Grades are named for the types of sturgeon from which the eggs are taken: Beluga, the largest, is black or grey; the smaller Osetrova greyish, grey-green, or brown; Sevruga, the smallest, is greenish-black. The rarest caviar, made from the golden eggs of the Sterlet, was formerly reserved for the table of the tsar. Lesser grades of caviar, made from broken or immature eggs, are more heavily salted and compressed. The red roe of salmon and of other fishes is sometimes sold under the name caviar but caviar ONLY comes from Sturgeon. The roes of whitefish and lumpfish are dyed black with cuttlefish ink to resemble sturgeon eggs.”

Thirty years ago, most of the caviar came from the Caspian Sea and the business was controlled by a handful of caviar traders from Iran and Russia. Since the foundation of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 1998, and following growing demand for sustainably produced sturgeon caviar, the industry has grown into a global business, with farms all over the world. The only sturgeon caviar producer in the Nordic region is the Carelian caviar from a sustainable farm situated in the Finnish lake district. THE US banned the importation of Beluga in 2005 this means that you cannot legally buy Beluga in the USA.

I think it is important to understand more about CITES. It is an international agreement between governments with an aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants do not threaten their survival. Given that nearly all caviar traded today is farmed, CITES now oversees the industry on a more general level, ensuring best practice through a coding system. All registered caviar producers place a CITES code to the bottom of their tins to prove their content is authentic.

A sample code on caviar can like - BAE/C/FI/2017/FI-02KTP/B680 - will tell you:

BAE - the type of caviar (in this case Baerial Aspensi)

C - the caviar is cultivated (C) or wild (W)

FI - the country the caviar is from (in this case Finland)

2017 - the year of production

FI-02KTP - the unique code for the company licensed to pack/repack the tin

B680 - the unique code for the caviar itself (if you gave this to the company that packed the tin, they would be able to tell you which farm and batch it came from).

The Black Sea and the Caspian Sea produce the vast majority of the world's caviar, but sturgeon have also been found in North America, Europe, and China. Recently, France has become the second-largest producer of caviar on the planet. There is no sturgeon in the Southern Hemisphere.

There are different types of fish whose prized roe is used to make caviar. The mighty one is Sturgeon, a 300-million-year-old prehistoric animal that survived the dinosaurs. Sturgeon caviar, much like white truffles and saffron, is among one of the highest prized commodities in the world. The longer it takes a sturgeon to produce roe, the higher the cost of its caviar. Roe from a sturgeon that takes less time to mature is, of course, cheaper and there are also price differences between fresh caviar and caviar that has been treated with preservatives.

The Beluga sturgeon (Huso Huso) is the largest of the species. It may grow twenty feet long, become more than 100 years old and weigh over two tons and it takes an incredible 18 - 20 years to produce. No wonder it costs a fortune and only a few farms in the world produce this type of caviar.

The Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser Baerii), which produces caviar called Baerii can weigh up to 200 kg and takes between four and six years to produce caviar roe.

The best caviar requires very little salt. The amount of salt added must be less than 5% of the weight of the roe for caviar to be designated as ´malossol´ (Russian for 'lightly salted') and it has the finest taste. It is superior in quality but comes with a short shelf life. Store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator, as close to the freezer as possible, and it should stay fresh for about two months. But take care; caviar should never be frozen, as it will end up mushy.

By pasteurizing the roe or treating it with additives is possible to extend the shelf life of caviar, but this results in the caviar losing complexity and flavor. Although it is high in sodium and cholesterol, caviar is rich in calcium and phosphorus, as well as protein, selenium, iron, magnesium, and Vitamins B12 and B6.

So, the finest, most expensive caviars are older, larger eggs that are lighter in color. Lower quality caviar is younger, with a less intensely fishy flavor, and darker in color.

When you look at your caviar, make sure that the grains stand out and are clean in their outline. The color is not a clue, as the shades vary (some have golden or green notes). Golden roe comes from albino fish and it used to be restricted to royalty in Russia and Iran.

Caviar is best served in a crystal or glass bowl over ice with a spoon in mother of pearl, to respect the rules. A utensil made of stainless steel or any other metal alters the aromas!

Excellent caviar is typically not combined with strong foods (lemon or onion, for example) that would interfere with the flavor. And caviar should always be served chilled.

Fun to remember, thanks to The History of Snobbism *, Frédéric Rouvillois, that in the eighteenth century, it was consumed in all media in France, even popular, when the Arcachon basin was full of sturgeons. The snobs were already beginning to prefer his cousin of Russia, necessarily a lot expensive!

Even Shakespeare was a fan of caviar. Interesting to note that one of the earliest references to caviar as a luxury item is a line in his play “Hamlet” when the Danish prince laments that the rabble were unable to enjoy a play as he had: "for the play, I remember, pleased not the million; 'twas caviare to the general….".

Now that a lot was said about delicious caviar, it is time to enjoy a spoon of it. Bon appetit!