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What Is Caviar?

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You might see the caviar label on many jars and tins out in the supermarkets, but how can you be sure that what you’re buying and eating is, in fact, caviar? Is caviar just fish eggs? The answer is yes...and no. Caviar is fish eggs, but caviar is more than just fish eggs. Not all fish eggs were created equal, and not are all fish eggs are caviar.

What is caviar, then? Our caviar definition is it’s the salted eggs from 26 species of sturgeon, including the famous Beluga (sturgeon, not whale), Sevruga and Osetra sturgeon. That’s it! So what are other types of fish eggs called? Any fish eggs that are not considered caviar (ie. nor from sturgeon) are called "roe".


It’s not really a competition. Roe refers to fish eggs in general, while as our caviar definition noted, caviar is sturgeon fish eggs in particular. Thus, all caviar is roe, but not all roe is caviar. Popular types of roe in gastronomy include salmon and trout roe, herring roe, lumpfish, and flying fish roe like tobiko caviar and capelin caviar that are used to garnish sushi.


Sturgeon roe + salt. That’s it. Those are the only ingredients that go into caviar. If there are any other ingredients listed on the tin or jar, it’s not caviar. Additionally, the salt content for caviar should be relatively minimal, just enough to preserve the caviar using the Malossol curing method.


Traditionally caviar has come from wild Caspian Sea and Black Sea sturgeon, with the Caspian Sea caviar being the most famous source. This huge salt-water lake washes the shores of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The Black Sea lies in between Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Russia and Iran are by far the most well known producers of caviar, with Russian Beluga caviar hailed as the most prized caviar of all.


Due to the depletion of wild sturgeon populations, most caviar today is farmed caviar, raised and harvested in aquaculture farms around the world. These caviar farms use true sturgeon stock, which are raised for years in controlled tanks or pools, and then harvested for caviar. Different types of prized Osetra and Sevruga are the most popular choices for caviar aquaculture. The result is caviar that is viable and sustainable, with a very multicultural flair. Top-notch caviar farms around the world can be found in Italy, Israel, France, the US and even Uruguay. As long as the sturgeon stocks are authentic and the water pristine, you can find incredibly high-quality farmed caviar.

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1. Julia on 2/22/2019, said: 5 out of 5 stars rating
This was a great easy read, thanks!
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2. Kevin on 4/1/2017, said: 5 out of 5 stars rating
Helpful information. Thanks!
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