Caviar is a product made from salt-cured fish-eggs of the Acipenseridae family.

Ossetra caviar

Ossetra caviar

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 $3,000 to $5,500 per kilo, or $2,500 per pound.

Varieties of Caviar

Caviar tins

Russian and Iranian caviar tins: Beluga to the left, Ossetra in middle, Sevruga to the right

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 over-fishing, the harvest and sale of black caviar was banned in Russia in 2007 but resumed in 2010, limited to 150 kg (330 lbs).

Caviar substitutes

Caviar substitutes

Caviar substitutes

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.

Caviar spoons

Salmon roe (left) and sturgeon caviar (right) served with mother of pearl caviar spoons to avoid tainting the taste of the caviar

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
  • Fish, caviar, black and red, granular

  • Serving Size100g
  • Amount per serving
  • Calories264
  • % Daily Value*
  • Total Fat17.9 g22.95%
  • Saturated Fat4.06 g20.3%
  • Polyunsaturated Fat7.405 g
  • Monounsaturated Fat4.631 g
  • Cholesterol588 mg196%
  • Sodium1500 mg65.22%
  • Total Carbohydrate4 g1.45%
  • Dietary Fiber0 g0%
  • Total Sugars0 g
  • Protein24.6 g49.2%
  • Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)117 mcg780%
  • Calcium275 mg21.15%
  • Iron11.88 mg66%
  • Potassium181 mg3.85%
  • Vitamin A905 mcg100.56%
  • Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)0.0 mg0%
  • Vitamin E (Tocopherol)1.89 mg12.6%
  • Vitamin K0.6 mcg0.5%
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)0.19 mg15.83%
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)0.62 mg47.69%
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)0.12 mg0.75%
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)0.32 mg24.62%
  • Folate50 mcg12.5%
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine)20 mcg833.33%
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)3.5 mg70%
  • Phosphorus356 mg50.86%
  • Magnesium300 mg75%
  • Zinc0.95 mg8.64%
  • Selenium65.5 mcg119.09%
  • Copper0.11 mg12.22%
  • Manganese0.05 mg2.17%

Fun Facts about Caviar

  • Caviar is one of the oldest delicacies – Before raw oysters, champagne, and even truffles were deemed a delicacy, caviar was coveted by kings and the aristocracy. Ancient Greeks, Romans and Russian tsars were all known to splurge on caviar.
  • Caviar is not as expensive as you think – OK, it’s definitely not cheap. But caviar prices have dropped in recent years as advances in aquaculture, especially domestically, have made farmed sturgeon more available and affordable. Coincidentally, the U.S. was also responsible for a severe drop in prices in the early 19th century, when lake sturgeon was discovered to be plentiful here.
  • The salmon roe on your sushi is not caviar! – Caviar was originally harvested by Russian and Persian fishermen in the Caspian Sea. The term refers to unfertilized salt-cured fish eggs from different species of sturgeon, including Ossetra, Sevruga and Beluga. Just about all 26 species of sturgeon have been used for caviar.
  • Caviar is judged on its colour, flavour, texture and maturity – The finest, most expensive caviar are older, larger eggs that are lighter in colour. At the opposite end of the scale, lower quality caviar is younger, with a less intensely fishy flavour, and darker in colour. It’s a good thing, too, for caviar newbies, who are more likely to start on the cheaper, milder stuff.
  • Caviar lasts more than a day – Because it’s technically cured fish, caviar has a decent shelf-life, even after it’s opened. Store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator, as close to the freezer as possible, and it should stay fresh for about a month.
  • Caviar is like wine – Caviar junkies and VIPs will seek out reserve caviar, the rarest and most expensive of all caviars. In the Middle Ages, many countries had laws that required the finest caviar to be reserved for the monarchy. Reserve caviar would have been that caviar.
  • Caviar is like valium – Historically, caviar was prescribed to alleviate depression. Hey, wouldn’t you feel better if someone gave you caviar? It’s not as fishy as it sounds: recent studies show that high doses of omega-3 fatty acids – caviar is rich in omega-3s – may alleviate symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Caviar is like viagra – It was also prescribed for impotence. Hey, now.
  • Caviar is audible – When Petrossian hires a new caviar grader, they make sure the person has a musical ear. When fish eggs rub against each other, the friction can be heard. The sound of good caviar when it’s packed is distinctly recognizable as something similar to a cat’s purr.
  • Caviar can be sustainable – Several of the 26 species of sturgeon are now considered endangered, but all of them have been severely overfished, The go-to source for sustainable fish alternatives are farmed white sturgeon and paddlefish roe.
  • Beluga is still on the menu ? – No, beluga caviar has been illegal in the U.S. since 2005 (1998 in Australia) due to its status as an endangered species.
  • The most expensive caviar on record is from a 100-year-old fish – Almas caviar, from the eggs of 60 to 100-year-old Iranian beluga sturgeon, clocked in at roughly $35,000 per kilo ($1,000/oz.). Can you imagine killing a fish older than your grandma for its eggs?
  • Blini ain’t the be-all-and-end-all – The traditional round puffy pancakes are perfect to top with crème fraîche and caviar. But early Russians preferred their roe on a baked potato. Nowadays, caviar makes appearances on everything from pizza to burgers.
  • What is so special about caviar and it’s tasteCaviar (and some other types of fish eggs) has a special texture as you eat it, the eggs pop gently in your mouth and on your tongue, releasing their flavour that is a delicate mixture of salt and fish, umami and clean, briny sea and a slight mineral taste.
  • What country has the best caviar? – The Caspian Sea is considered the perfect environment for the world’s most exceptional, flavourful and resplendent caviar, thanks to this unique, distinct location. While sturgeon caviar is the top rated out there, other types, such as salmon roe, are considered world-class also.


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