Caviars are the salted eggs of the wild sturgeon fish. Particularly, the ones that came from the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga sturgeons are among the examples. It has reached the tables of the noble Byzantine Greeks in the 10th century. Since then, it has been a delicacy that is traditionally eaten as either a garnish or a spread. It provides a briny or ocean taste that is not overpowering – unless it’s the cheaper version of caviar, which is more likely to provide a slimy, fishy taste. It’s flavorful, salty, and grainy, with butter-like goodness that melts in your mouth!
- The National Caviar Day is celebrated every 18th of July.
- One single sturgeon can produce 100 pounds of roe. But due to poaching, overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss, these very large fish are critically endangered today.
- The United States is responsible for importing 60% of beluga caviar’s world supplies, making the country the largest market for this fish.
- Caviar is not meant to be confused with roe, as roe is the general term for eggs collected from any marine animals.
Caviar Buying Guide
Indeed, caviar is the king when it comes to fancy restaurant hors-d’oeuvres. But, it can be overwhelming when you’re the one who has to serve it. Thus, here are some basic things to keep in mind when you are to buy caviars:
- Caviars can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, along with other oceanic delicacies and smoked fish.
- Check out the sodium content as most caviars that aren’t refrigerated can go heavy on the salt. High sodium content is an indication that such caviars are not the freshest ones.
- Opt for caviars in clear glass jars rather than opaque containers. Flip the container and see how the eggs look. The eggs should be shiny and it should also separate nicely; they shouldn’t look muddy or slimy.
- You don’t have to buy the most expensive caviar every time. If you are hosting a large party and want to serve something special yet budget-friendly, look for Louisiana bowfin, Illinois hackleback roe, or American spoonbill. They’re delicious and you could get them for as low as $10 a jar.
- Otherwise, if you’re willing to spend a fortune on caviars, look for the word “malossol” on the label. Malossol is a Russian word that translates to “little salt.” This label is an indication that a higher-grade caviar has been quickly soaked in brine and immediately strained; hence the term little salt.
Moreover, it’ll be good to know that caviars can also be bought according to how they are prepared. Below are the 4 primary methods of processing caviars:
- Malossol – As mentioned above, this means that caviars are treated with the least amount of salt. Less salt might be the healthiest choice; but, it is also the most perishable and therefore the most expensive choice.
- Salted – Contrary to malossol, this process means that caviars are treated with the most amount of salt. Therefore, it is less perishable and less expensive compared to malossol.
- Pressed – This process means that weak, damaged, or broken eggs that pass through the sieve are then treated, salted, and pressed. As a result, they provide a jam-like consistency which is mostly used as a spread. This type is also known as pajusnaya or payusnaya.
- Pasteurized – This process means that the eggs are heat-treated and vacuum-packed into glass jars to preserve. Thus, it provides a firmer caviar compared to the others.
Likewise, caviars can also be bought according to the fish they are harvested from. For real or authentic caviars, it should only come from the following sturgeons:
- Beluga Sturgeon – Caviars from this fish have big, pea-sized eggs that are glossy, clear, and soft. Its color ranges from light gray to black. It provides a creamy taste and it’s considered to be the most premium grade there is. However, beluga sturgeon is now an endangered species that is currently illegal in the United States.
- Osetra Sturgeon – Caviars from this fish have medium-size eggs. Its color ranges from light gray to dark brown, but some may also come in golden brown. These caviars provide a nutty flavor and a rich taste of the sea. Osetra can also be spelled as Ossetra, Oscietra, or Asestra.
- Sevruga Sturgeon – Caviars from this fish have the smallest eggs among the three. However, it is more abundant and less expensive. Its color ranges from light gray to black. These caviars provide the same buttery goodness as Beluga, but this one is saltier, richer, and stronger in flavor.
While the ones above are the only real caviars around, some farmed caviars (roes) are also available in the market. Farmers in the United States continue to grow them because of the overfishing that nearly drove the sturgeon fish extinct. Thus, farmed caviars, which are technically roes, include the following:
- American Caviar – These are eggs from the sturgeon fish that are native to the United States. Among them includes Lake Sturgeon, Wild Atlantic Sturgeon, and White Sturgeon.
- Paddlefish Caviar – These are eggs from paddlefish. It makes a great alternative to Beluga Caviar as it also provides a smooth texture and a rich, buttery flavor. Likewise, these caviars are shiny and clear. But, its color is quite lighter from Beluga, ranging from steel gray to golden gray.
- Hackleback Caviar – These are eggs from fishes that come from the rivers of Missouri and Mississippi. It has a firm, medium-sized eggs that come in a glossy black color. It provides a sweet, buttery, and nutty taste.
- Bowfin Caviar – Also known as Cajun Caviar or Choupique, these are caviars with smaller and black-colored beads. It offers a mild flavor, and it provides a somewhat chalky texture. Thus, this variety is great to be used in recipes instead of serving by itself.
- Salmon Caviar – These are salmon eggs that are popular among the sushi chefs. It comes in a reddish-orange or bright golden orange color, with medium to large-sized roes that can even be bigger than Beluga. It provides an intense salmon flavor and a unique popping characteristic when consumed.
- Whitefish Caviar – These are whitefish eggs that come in golden orange, red, or black in color. The roes are small but they provide a crunchy texture with a mild flavor. This variety is commonly infused with saffron, wasabi, truffle mushroom, and ginger.
- Trout Caviar – These are trout eggs that come in a golden orange color. It provides a subtle flavor but it also pops in the mouth like salmon roe. This variety is also commonly infused with other flavors.
- Lumpfish Caviar – These are eggs from fishes that come in the cold waters of Nordic. It is commonly pasteurized. The roes come in red or black color, and are fine-grained and crunchy. It provides a briny flavor yet it is inexpensive.
- Capelin Caviar – Also known as Masago Caviar, these are eggs that come from smelt fish. It has small, fluorescent orange eggs that are commonly seen on sushi and sashimi recipes. It is very inexpensive and it’s also pasteurized.
Caviar Production & Farming in Texas
Caviars can only be harvested from sturgeons that are mostly dead. The Caspian or Black Sea fishermen wait for the maturity of a female sturgeon, which could be up to 10 years before they are ready to migrate upstream and lay their eggs. Then, they are caught by these fishermen and they’re transferred into a larger boat, where workers slit them open and remove their eggs. The caviar is immediately cleaned and iced to prevent spoilage; the rest of the fish goes to the market. Once the caviars are packaged properly, they are now ready for export. Meanwhile, since the state of Texas cannot harvest its own caviars, it only relies to import. But, as we know how resourceful Texans can be, a delicacy has been popular in the state – Texas Caviar. Although this dish doesn’t contain caviars, it can be a cheaper and nutritious alternative. The recipe can be found below.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
Although most of the store-bought caviars are sold in its purest form, some manufacturers add some preservatives to prolong its shelf life. Thus, here are a few additives that we found on some brands:
- Color Additives – these are food colorings or dyes that are added to food products to improve its color. Some are natural and some are artificial. Examples of these are annatto extract (yellow), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange), grape skin extract (red and green), and dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown). Nonetheless, this additive can cause skin irritation, rashes, and eczema. Artificial ones include Blue # 1, Yellow # 5, Yellow # 6, FD&C, and Red 40. It can upset one’s stomach and experience difficulty in breathing.
- Stabilizer Tragacanth – Tragacanth is a natural gum that came from the dried sap of several species of legumes. It can also be labeled as E413. They act as an emulsifier, stabilizer, thickener, and a suspending agent when added to food and food products. And although it is generally classified as safe to consume (even as a health remedy), it may cause some minor breathing problems.
- Sodium Benzoate – This chemical substance acts as a preservative. It might be labeled as E211 on some products. And although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it might cause headache, hyperventilation or palpitation, or anxiety.
Since caviars react on metal, almost all of them are packaged in glass containers or mason jars. These containers are also sometimes enclosed in an elegant carton box, and they make the perfect luxurious gift! However, some caviars are packaged in metal tins. But don’t worry, they are all coated with a non-reactive lining interior to prevent these effects.
As mentioned above, caviars react on metal. Thus, when you use a metal spoon such as silver, it’ll oxidize the caviar and will give you a bitter and tannic tang. Porcelain, mother of pearl, shell, buffalo horn, gold, glass, or plastic are among the best options. When eating caviar, it is highly suggested not to chew it because you will then lose a lot of flavor. Feel the beads of the eggs using your tongue and enjoy the buttery mouthfeel of caviar. This dish is considered an expensive product. Thus, it should be savored rather than devoured. Take small bites and enjoy every piece of it.
In addition, while caviar is best enjoyed without any accompaniments, it might not be practical for some to serve it pure. Thus, the following complements well on caviar: lemon wedges, crème fraiche, mini potatoes, mini crepes, toasts, and minced onions. Champagne and ice-cold vodka is the alcohol of choice when it comes to serving caviar.
The storage of caviar plays a vital role in its quality and taste. Inappropriate handling and storage can easily turn an expensive caviar into a cheap-tasting one. Thus, it is important to remember that caviar is a sensitive and a very perishable product. It should be kept in an airtight and non-reactive container such as mason jars or glass. Then, it needs to be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator, with a temperature between 28-30ºF. There, an unopened jar or package can last for up to a month, but once it’s opened, it could only last for up to three days. When a jar has been opened, wrap the package in cling wrap before storing it back to the fridge. This will minimize the product’s exposure to moisture and air. Do not store caviar in the freezer as it will ruin its delicate texture.
Make your own Caviar, Texas-Style!
While caviar can only be imported to the state of Texas, it can be expensive and quite impractical. Thus, the state has created a delicacy that resembles that of caviar. And although it is named “Texas Caviar,” it doesn’t have sturgeon eggs in it. Nevertheless, this recipe works perfectly as an appetizer, salad, or side dish. It’s delicious, easy to make, and it’s healthy too!
- 2 15-oz can black-eyed peas or beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 15-oz can sweet kernel corn, rinsed and drained
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 4 cups cherry, grape, or Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
- 4 ripe avocados, finely chopped
- ¾ cup cilantro, finely chopped
Dressing (Chili Lime):
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 4 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Nacho chips, tortilla chips, or vegetable sticks, as needed
- Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk all the dressing ingredients together, until homogenous.
- Pour the dressing over the salad, give it a good mix, and serve with chips or vegetable sticks.