Caviar is roe or eggs from the sturgeon family of fish. It’s considered a delicacy, often eaten raw as an appetizer, with some caviar fetching a high price. Historically, the most prized types of caviar came from the Caspian and Black Seas, but due to overfishing, caviar is now produced around the world.
Place of origin: Caspian and Black Seas, common varieties: beluga, osetra, sevruga, kaluga, starlet. Preparation: served chilled or on ice with blinis or toast points. Shelf life: two weeks in the fridge (unpasteurized).
All female fish lay eggs to reproduce; therefore they all have roe. Not all fish roe is suitable for human consumption, however, and only sturgeon roe is considered caviar.
Sturgeon is saltwater anadromous fish (meaning they move from salt to freshwater to spawn). They are native to the Black and Caspian Seas between Europe and Asia as well as the Pacific Northwest and southern Atlantic coasts of the United States. Sturgeon can grow to more than 3,000 pounds but typically average about 60 pounds.
Other popular types of fish roe like salmon, trout, and flying fish are well loved and popular for topping sushi rolls, toast, and more. However, they are not considered caviar. Some types of fish roe have similar flavor and textural characteristics to caviar and can be used as a substitute.
The most-prized caviar comes from the beluga and osetra varieties of sturgeon. Beluga caviar is among the largest, rarest, and most expensive of all caviar. It typically can’t be found in the U.S. due to overfishing and government regulations, but kaluga is a variety that’s available stateside with a similar delicate buttery flavour and texture. Osetra tends to have a nutty, briny, fresh flavour, while sevruga has a strong flavour and snaps and pops in your mouth. Sterlet is similar to sevruga and is often mislabelled as such. Hackleback comes from a sturgeon in the Mississippi River and has a mild, nutty flavour. A number of other caviar varieties exist with differing flavours, textures, and colours.
In addition to the type of fish, caviar is graded based on the size, texture, and flavor of the eggs.There are two main grades of caviar. These are—Grade 1: Firm, large eggs that are intact (more expensive), Grade 2: Less delicate and less perfectly formed eggs (less expensive).
For purists, it’s best to eat caviar alone or with minimal accompaniments. The raw dish is classically served on a bed of ice with a caviar spoon, traditionally made of pearl or bone. Silver or steel utensils can impart a metallic flavour to caviar and are therefore avoided. Caviar can be consumed right off a spoon or served with crackers, toast points, or blini (small crepes or pancakes).
Caviar can also be added as a finishing touch to appetizers and pasta but is not usually cooked. Instead, it is added as a garnish to preserve its flavour.
The Spruce Eats