Cost of Caviar: A Look into Caviar Pricing
According to the Guinness book of world records, the world’s most expensive caviar on record is the Almas caviar from a very rare and very old (we're talking between 60 and 100 years old) albino Beluga sturgeon. This unique golden white caviar sold for about $34,500 US per kilogram – which is rich for even the richest.
Rare albino sturgeon aside, Beluga caviar (from the huso huso sturgeon) is widely and unanimously considered the best and most expensive caviar in the world. With large, firm and glossy eggs, beluga caviar is prized for it's smooth buttery flavor, almost second to none. However, due to overfishing and pollution, the beluga sturgeon population has been fished almost to extinction and the fish is now a protected species. The export and sale of Beluga caviar in the United States has been illegal for several years now, an effort to allow for the slow-growing populations to recover. In a highly controversial move, Russia decided to lift the ban on the export of Beluga caviar and sturgeon caviar in general in 2011, but to Europe only. With set quotas and controlled breeding centers, Beluga caviar is now available for sale in Europe.
The World's Most Expensive Caviar: Strottarga Bianco
Beluga, Iranian Almas, they’re the top of the line true caviars. However, there’s a new contender for the title of world’s most expensive caviar, the gold-laced “Strottarga Bianco”, the next level of caviar luxe. Like Almas, Strottarga is made from the white caviar of the exotic Albino sturgeon, but with a luxurious twist. The roe is dehydrated, grated finely and then finally mixed with a dusting of 22-karat edible gold leaf. Created by Austrian fish farmer Walter Gruell, Strottarga is arguably today not only the most expensive caviar, but the most expensive food in the world. This fine powdered caviar can be served over most dishes, but savoring this golden caviar will cost you - a teaspoon of Strottarga is about $40,000 US dollars! Culinary decadence and glamour at its highest – and most expensive - expression.
You might like caviar, but what kind of caviar do you like best? Not all caviars taste or look the same; some caviars are larger, some are darker, some are mushier and some firmer; and some caviars have a mild taste while others burst in your mouth with flavor. Some come from young fish, while other caviars have been harvested from 100-year-old sturgeon. A good rule of thumb is: the older (the fish), and the bigger, lighter and glossier the eggs, the bigger the price tag.
Take into account that caviar can vary dramatically from tin to tin, even if it comes from the same species, river, and even if it’s harvested at the same time. To accommodate for all these variances, caviar is graded by professional “caviar graders” following a grading system that takes into account the following factors: Uniformity, Size, Color, Maturity, Separation, Fragrance, Lucidity/gleam and Hardness/firmness.
Caviar Grades: 1 and 2
Grade 1 is large, firm, uniform in shape, with clearly separated grains, finely flavored and delicately fragranced. Grade 2 has a smaller egg size, with very good color and a fine flavor.
Caviar Grades: 0, 00, and 000
Used primarily for Beluga caviar, this grading is an indication of color only, with 000 being the lightest-colored caviar.
Caviar Grades: Classic, Royal and Imperial
Classic, Royal, and Imperial are used to differentiate mainly Osetra and Sevruga sturgeon caviars. It can vary from producer, but Imperial (also known as Tsar Imperial) al the highest grade, with the biggest, lightest caviar beads, followed by Royal with smaller beige to light grey eggs, and Classic or Select with darker grey-black breads.
Why is caviar so expensive?
There are some key factors that affect caviar pricing, but mainly caviar is expensive because it’s rare, non-renewable and in high demand. The sturgeon is an ancient fish that take a very long time to mature and produce eggs – over 20 years and more. Unlike a chicken that lays eggs many times over, a fully mature sturgeon is killed to extract the eggs, and those would be the same eggs that would produce more caviar-producing fish. You’re basically killing the goose that lays the golden eggs... to eat its golden eggs.
There’s also the age-old law of supply and demand: caviar is very high in demand, and there’s a very low supply of it. The cost of caviar has always been expensive, but now with such limited quantities available they’ve soared. Caviar has since ancient times been considered the food of royalty and the super-rich, so it’s coveted not only for its flavor but also as a status symbol. Factor in a ripe black market trade, a politically charged climate in the source countries, and a species on the brink of extinction, and you have all the ingredients for a prized commodity.