Since my recent blog discussing fine foods, I’ve had some comments from friends asking about caviar in particular. There seem to be a range of questions which are quite common and easily answered, so in this spirit, today we’re discussing how caviar should served, and other considerations for enjoying caviar.
*Updated July 2022
- Do you serve caviar cold?
- How much is a serving/portion of caviar?
- Do you eat caviar raw or cooked?
- What is the best way to serve caviar?
- What does caviar taste like?
- What goes well with caviar?
- What drinks go with caviar?
- What non-alcoholic drinks go with caviar?
- What is the history of caviar?
- What is Beluga caviar?
- What is Oscietra caviar?
- What is Sevruga caviar?
- What is Kaluga Caviar?
- What crackers go best with caviar?
- What are blinis?
- Can you get sick from eating caviar?
- How long does caviar last?
- Why is caviar black?
- What caviar is best for beginners?
- Should I chew caviar?
- Why are sturgeon special?
- How is sturgeon farmed?
- Which country has the best caviar?
- How much does caviar cost?
- What is American caviar?
- What is Chinese caviar?
- Is caviar halal?
- Is caviar kosher?
- What is the difference between caviar and roe?
- What is pressed caviar?
- What is Avruga?
- What is Masago?
- What is Malossol?
- Are caviar eggs fertilised?
- What is borax?
- What is a caviar key?
- Are there health benefits to caviar?
- What is lumpfish caviar?
- What is snail caviar?
- What is caviar butter?
- What is sandwich caviar?
- What is kelp caviar?
- What is an ikryanchik?
- What is smoked caviar?
- Is caviar popular?
- Is caviar ethical?
- What is Exmoor caviar?
- Can I eat caviar everyday?
- Where can I buy caviar in the UK?
Do you serve caviar cold?
Yes. Placing your caviar in the fridge before serving helps to reach an ideal “chilled” temperature. Caviar servers often have ice trays, which will help the caviar to maintain a chilled temperature for longer durations.
Keep in mind, most fridges in the UK have an average temperature of around 7-8 degrees Celcius. Caviar tastes best when served at around 3-6 degrees Celcius. As such, try to store you caviar in the bottom of the fridge, where temperatures may be slightly cooler. American fridges average slightly colder, around 4.5 Celcius, so adjust your caviar storage accordingly.
Serving caviar at sub-zero temperatures between -1 and -2 degrees Celcius is feasible, as the salt content in the caviar prevents freezing. In my estimation, this is too cold, and is unpleasant on the mouth for most people.
How much is a serving/portion of caviar?
A typical portion of caviar will be anywhere from 0.5 ounces, to 1.5 ounces. Portion sizes larger than this are uncommon, as caviar is best used sparingly in any environment. Part of the joy of caviar, is how it is able to cleanse the palate, so consuming more than 2 ounces is certainly wasteful.
|Number of guests||Modest amount of caviar||Generous amount of caviar||Lavish amount of caviar|
|3||1.5 ounces (42 grams)||3 ounces (85 grams)||4.5 ounces (128 grams)|
|7||3.5 ounces (99 grams)||7 ounces (198 grams)||10.5 ounces (298 grams)|
|12||6 ounces (170 grams)||12 ounces (340 grams)||18 ounces (510 grams)|
|20||10 ounces (283 grams)||20 ounces (567 grams)||30 ounces (850 grams)|
Do you eat caviar raw or cooked?
While some fish roe can be cooked, caviar is never cooked and always served cold. Heats higher than room temperature can be very detrimental to the final taste and texture of the caviar.
If you absolutely must try “warmer” caviar, try serving cold caviar on luke-warm toast or blinis, which is less likely to denature the caviar’s flavours.
What is the best way to serve caviar?
Most commonly caviar is served in glassware. For consumption, mother-of-pearl or wooden spoons are used. All of these materials are chosen because they are highly-unreactive, and have little-to-no potential to denature the flavour of the caviar. Sometimes caviar is served directly onto the back of the hand for this same reason.
In centuries past unreactive materials like tortoise-shell, ivory and animal horn were used to create caviar spoons, though this are much less common in the 21st century, and are often illegal to produce: only found as rare antiques.
Absolutely avoid using silver or other metal tableware, with the exception of gold, as it is practically chemically inert to caviar.
You might be suprised to find (even in the most luxurious settings) than plastic is often used for disposable spoons and pots, as it is perfectly suited for serving caviar.
What does caviar taste like?
Fishy, and salty, though only mildly. Quality caviar does taste of fish, but more boldly it has a flavour all of its own, which is reminiscent of the ocean. Often briny, with nutty notes that rise in the mouth and delight the nose, leaving the mouth refreshed and cleansed.
It is sometimes (though not always) the case that lesser caviars will have a more fishy taste. The most expensive caviars have flavour profiles that are broadly buttery, sharp, refreshing, with a frail mixture of saltiness and acidity which rises to the nostriles.
The texture of caviar varies, largely determined by the shape and size of the roe, as well as the breed of sturgeon. Some caviars will have a very firm texture, which is often called “crunchy”; common with higher-grade caviars which have been well stored.
Caviar should “burst” on the tongue, releasing many flavours at once when pressed against the roof of the mouth. The pressure required to burst the pearls should create a mildy leathery texture, but not a rubbery one.
Caviar might be considered an acquired taste: like many luxurious foods, it is prized for it’s complexity. When it comes to recognising caviar’s nuances, there is certainly a learning curve. It might take a few tasting sessions before you are able to fully appreciate these nuances in flavour and texture.
What goes well with caviar?
Flavours that go nicely with caviar include chicken or quail eggs, raw onion, and sour cream. Topping blinis with caviar and a small scoop of sour cream, lemon juice, with finely sliced onions and eggs. If raw onions are too rich for you, chives or even spring onions can be used instead. Crème fraiche is a reasonable alternative to sour cream.
Fruits and vegetables are an exciting pairing too. Cucumber slices can be a lower-calorie alternative for blinis, while pears and grapes are my favourite fruit pairings for caviar.
Cheese is often paired with caviar; usually cheeses with mild, creamy flavours are selected. Strong pungent cheese is avoided, as to not overwhelm the flavour of the caviar.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. World class chefs have been known to bravely pair caviar with unusual flavours. Heston Blumenthal sometimes chooses to serve caviar atop extremely thin discs of white chocolate for example.
What drinks go with caviar?
Vodka is a common pairing, and should be a first choice for anyone new to caviar. Champagnes and wines are also very popular, though in my estimation are less of a “tasting experience” than vodka.
When wines are choosen, they are almost always white, with brut, dry wines avoided, in favour of sweeter tones. The same is true of champagnes.
Red wines are to be avoided. They have a full bodied taste which overwhelms the delicate notes of caviar.
More rarely, caviar is complimented by aniseed flavours, from spirits such as Pastis or Sambuca. Historically, some Russian royalty, including Catherine the Great enjoyed English porter beer with caviar, though this is an extremely uncommon pairing in modernity.
For any drink which is to be paired with caviar, ensure it is chilled for a minimum of 90 minutes in the bottom of the fridge before serving.
What non-alcoholic drinks go with caviar?
Fruit juices and lemonades can be fanastic pairings with caviar when selected carefully. Watermelon juice is a personal favourite, as it has a mild juicy taste, which does not overwhelm the caviar’s essence, while possessing a sweet hydrating flavour all of its own.
Carbonated water is also a good choice: the small bubbles successfully move the caviar’s flavour around the mouth, enhancing the taste in some people’s opinion. Tonic water however should be avoided, as it often contains sharp sugars and other additive that can impair the taste of the caviar.
Harder mineral waters, with strong flavour profiles and higher mineral contents should also be avoided, as they can make it harder to distinguish the caviar’s salty flavour.
What is the history of caviar?
Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Persians discovered Caspian Sea caviar from its native sturgeon, as we know it today. At this time, and for much of history, the meat of the sturgeon, not the eggs were the most sought after delicacy.
The word caviar is said to have originated from the Greek “avyaron“, the Italian “caviale“, or the Turkish “haviar“, however it is most likely descendent of the ancient Persian, “mahi-e-khâveeyâr”, meaning “fertile fish” and “khâya-dar” meaning “bearing eggs”.
Caviar spread westward from Persia, with Aristotle describing the eggs of sturgeon eaten in ancient Greek feasts and celebrations. The Caspian Sea’s proximity to the silk road from the 2nd to the 15th century BC also ensured caviar’s fame spread far and wide throughout history. Byzantine trading records often described ‘kabiari’, a luxury dish of sturgeon eggs eaten in Constantinople.
Sturgeon was named a “Royal Fish” by Edward II of England in 1324, and only members of the royal court were allowed to eat it. This is a practise that continues to this day: any wild sturgeon caught inside the United Kingdom’s territory are declared the monarch’s property.
Caviar’s image as a high-end food was further solidified in France in the 1920s, thanks to both the tastes of experienced Russian merchants fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution, and the economic interests of the Communist party to export prized Caspian Sea caviar to foreign buyers. The desire for caviar began to manifest at the capital’s top restaurants and at the most opulent occasions.
During the same time period, bar owners in North America experimented with the idea of complimentary roe from the sturgeon of the Delaware River, in the hopes that the salty taste would induce customers to buy more beverages.
The surge in demand throughout the early twentieth century led the number of wild sturgeon to decline, reducing the total availability of Caspian Sea caviar and raising its price. This culminated in the early twenty-first century, when the harvesting of sturgeon fish in the Caspian Sea region was prohibited, beginning in 2008.
There is no legal caviar on the market today made from wild sturgeon collected in the Caspian Sea, hence all caviar consumed today is farmed.
What is Beluga caviar?
Beluga caviar is the roe produced by the Beluga sturgeon, native to the Caspain Sea. The Beluga is the only carnivore sturgeon, with an extremely long lifespan, sometimes well over 100 years. The eggs of Beluga are very large and rich in flavour, making them extremely sought after, often considered the be the best variety of caviar.
Because wild Beluga caviar harvesting is banned across most of the world, it is extremely expensive, and only available when produced from farm-raised sturgeon. This farming process is very intensive, with sturgeons only reaching maturity after 20 years. In many countries, such as the USA, it is still outright illegal to import Beluga caviar. In the UK Beluga caviar can now be purchased and imported, but its cost remains very high.
With so many challenges in the acquisition of Beluga caviar, you might ask, “is all the difficulty worth it?”. Without a doubt. The fine egg quality, texture and taste of Beluga caviar is next-to impossible to acquire from other species. For sophisticate tastes, there really is no alternative to the eggs of Beluga sturegon.
What is Oscietra caviar?
Oscietra caviar, somes called “Asetra”, is caviar produced by the Ossetra sturgeon. This sturgeon is native to many of the same waters as the Beluga, sharing many of the same qualities, but is marginally smaller, and has a shorter lifespan. Ossetra caviar varies in colour between fish, with the most light and golden eggs being the most desirable.
What is Sevruga caviar?
Produced by Sevruga sturgeon, Sevruga caviar is high-quality caviar, which is slightly less sought after than Oscietra and Beluga caviar. The Sevruga sturgeon is unique, having the lowest body fat of all wild sturgeon species. It is also smaller, and has a shorter lifespan than both Oscietra and Beluga, weighing up to 150lb and measuring no longer than 5 feet. Its low reproductive age mean it is generally considered easier to farm than other breeds, as well as having smaller and more plentiful eggs. The eggs are generally charcoal grey to black, with a pleasant nutty flavour and glossy texture.
What is Kaluga Caviar?
While most sturgeon are know for their placid nature, the Kaluga (Huso Dauricus, “River Beluga”) is a ferocious fish. In its habbitat of the Amur River, it has been known to use its sharp teeth to cannibalise other sturgeon and swallow large fish whole. With some specimens reaching over 1-tonne, the Kaluga is a real contender for the title of the largest sturgeon species, second only to the Beluga.
The large size of the fish results in large, delicious desireable caviar. It is generally considered to be a fantastic alternative to Beluga caviar, as it possess many of the same qualities, at a slightly lower price, with greater availability.
What crackers go best with caviar?
The main enjoyment of crackers with caviar is the counterpointed texture between the two. Even the most available of crackers can offer this experience.
Don’t go above and beyond in this regard, unless you’re looking to impress guests, in which cases blinis are likely preferable.
Toast of any kind is also broadly suitable to serve with caviar. Try a wholemeal loaf, though avoid crusts with excess flour which may spoil the overall texture.
What are blinis?
Blinis are small savoury pancakes that are eaten at room temperature. Traditional Russiann blinis use buckwheat flour to achieve a particular texture, though recipes vary slightly betweenn regions. Caviar is typically served atop blinis, with sour cream considered a must-have accompaniment.
While blinis are readily available for purchase online, they are not difficult to make and can be prepared in little under and hour in your own kitchen. By exploring online recipes you will see that there are a variety of approaches which are all slightly different, with nearly all requiring buckwheat flower.
If cooking your own blinis, keep in mind that recipes with fewer eggs will be thinner. The amout of yeast used is also a significant factor in consistency. Many recipes suggest as much as 13 grams of yeast for 2 eggs, however 8 grams produces a slightly thinner blini which is suitable for my tastes, as there is less pancake to absorb the moisture of the caviar.
My personal ingredients list for blinis is:
70g buckwheat flour
70g plain flour
8 grams yeast
2 large organic eggs
Try to used as heavy a pan as possible when cooking the blinis. Coat the pan moderately in butter or olive oil.
Can you get sick from eating caviar?
Caviar can make you sick if it is not stored properly, as with any seafood. Make sure it is kept refrigerated right up till the hour in which you need to serve it.
Caviar which has spoilt will have a strong and unpleasant fishy smell; very different to the fresh, uplifting smell you’d expect, which makes avoiding spoilt caviar easy in most cases.
Allergies to caviar are not common, though can be present in those who have a specific allergy to fish. If you’re allergic to other types of seafood, such as shrimp, you might not be allergic to caviar, but you should still be cautious if you’re not sure if you’ll have a reaction.
How long does caviar last?
Not long usually! Even with the use of borax and salt as preservatives, caviar typically does not have a very long use-by-date. Once a tin is opened, expect it to stay edible for no longer than a few days refrigerated, with most tins in the UK featuring prominent use-by dates.
An unopened tin of fresh caviar or roe will stay fresh for a maximum of 4-5 weeks, with the quality deteriorating slowly after week 2-3.
It is not uncommon to find very large tins of caviar (500g and over) for sale online in the UK. These will degrade no more slowly. Always plan ahead and decide when and how you will be using your caviar to avoid spoilage.
Once caviar has been at room temperature for longer than 3-4 hours, there are risks surrounding food poisoning from bacteria (typically Clostridium botulinum), which can thrive outside of the anaerobic environment of a caviar tin. This can not only spoil the quality of the caviar’s flavour, but also make it dangerous. If you are unsure about the safety of any caviar, do not consume or serve it.
Tinned roe preperations and pasteurized caviar may last signficantly longer than fresh caviar, however these lesser roes typically have a weaker flavour profile and damaged texture. Pasteurized or pressed caviar (Payusnaya) is often vacuum sealed during packaging, which can allow it to last for up to a year when stored correctly.
Don’t hesitate to call your caviar supplier before ordering online. A good UK caviar supplier will be happy to discuss the use-by dates of their available caviars before shipping to you, allowing you to plan ahead and maximise the freshness of your caviar.
A reputable caviar supplier will also ensure the caviar’s quality during the shipping and distribution process. Most often the caviar will be sent in an insulated package, which will maintain an appropriate temperature for the caviar to neither warm-up nor freeze.
Why is caviar black?
Most caviar only looks black, but is actually dark green, brown or red. Each fish will produce slightly different colours, shades and tones of caviar, so no two caviar will truly be the same colour.
Most commonly, sturgeon caviar will be very dark (near black), while the roe of other fish can be brighter, with some roe like salmon being extremely bright and colourful.
The most sought-after caviar is suprisingly not black. Almas caviar is a golden yellow caviar made exclusively from the eggs of a very uncommon female albino sturgeon. Furthermore, they must be aged 60 years or older for Almas to present.
Due to the lack of pigment in only a few members of the species, there are relatively few albino sturgeons left in nature, meaning exceptional quality Almas may only become available every few years.
This golden caviar is so highly regarded by enthusiasts that it can fetch prices as high as £50,000 per kilogramme.
|Avruga||Often artificially coloured black.||Affordable caviar substitute.|
|Lumpfish Roe||Often artificially coloured red or black.||Affordable caviar substitute.|
|Trout Roe||Orange.||Affordable caviar substitute.|
|Salmon Roe||Bright orange.||Affordable caviar substitute.|
|Beluga Sturgeon Roe||Silver, grey, black, brown.||Very high-quality Caviar|
|Oscietra Sturgeon Roe||Gold, black, brown.||High-quality Caviar|
|Sevruga Sturgeon Roe||Grey, black, brown.||High-quality Caviar|
|Albino Beluga Sturgeon Roe||Golden yellow.||The very best caviar.|
What caviar is best for beginners?
Beginners should not be intimated by caviar! Unlike other fine foods, it doesn’t require complex recipes or cooking to be enjoyed. Simply get started by opening the tin, and scooping a small amount amount from your hand, into your mouth. For newbies who have never tried fish eggs, and want to learn if they would enjoy the flavour, it might be best to start with cheaper roes which are available at a fraction of the price of full-blown luxury caviar:
Salmon roe is a great starting point if you’ve not eaten fish eggs before. Not only is salmon roe much cheaper and more available than black caviar, but it also has a bright attractive appearance which makes it ideal as a stylish garnish in other dishes.
Lumpfish roe is another option, however quality can vary widely. Be careful not to make your first experience with roe a poor one by choosing cheap lumpishfish roe, which is likely to contain artificial colourings.
Should I chew caviar?
No! Caviar should not be chewed as the flavour will dissipate quickly without reaching the tongue. Softly feel the beads of roe with your tongue, taste the salty, buttery fat and push the caviar up against the top of your mouth.
Caviar should be savoured and cherished, so keep the caviar in your mouth as long as is enjoyable before swallowing, but in all cases, do not chew it.
Why are sturgeon special?
There are around 25 species of wild sturgeon across the globe today, with several more hybrid breeds resulting from the cultivating process.
They are unusual fish, as they have more cartilage than bone. Instead of thin fish scales, they have scutes (external bones) which run the length of their bodies. These primitive features suggest that the sturgeon has evolved very little since since the Middle Jurassic era, some 160 million years ago.
Some sturgeon are native to only freshwater lakes and rivers, however many more sturgeon species migrate, living primarily in the sea, and travel upstream into fresh waters to lay their eggs and reproduce.
Their lifespan is also extremely impressive, with many sturgeon easily living over 100 years of age, and only reaching reproductive maturity around age 20. It has been this slow lifecycle which has made them particularly susceptible to overfishing and endangerment.
Sturgeon are also capable of growing to incredible sizes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, before the modern period of overfishing wild sturgeon, it was more common for them to reach extremely large sizes. There are several records sturgeon weighing over 1-tonne during this period, typified by a 2-tonne Huso Huso caught in 1736 from the Volga river.
How is sturgeon farmed?
The first sturgeon hatcheries were built in the 1950s by the USSR, as sturgeon were becoming less able to swim up-river to their natural spawning grounds, due to the expanded use of hydroelectric dams. These projects were very successful, allowing for hundreds of millions of sturgeon fingerlings (babies) to be hatched. In response, “sea farms” were opened across the Caspian coast over the next decades. It was not until the 1970s that the specialist knowledge developed within these Soviet farms began to spread to Europe; acquired with the aim of repopulating largely depleted European rivers. Over the following years, this knowledge would continue to spread across the globe.
The most important priniciple of sturgeon farming, is biosecurity and hygiene, at every stage of the process. This reduces any chance the sturgeon may become diseased or otherwise tainted.
Secondly, sturgeon which are not in the wild and able to migrate freely to their spawning grounds will not show spawning behaviours to display when their eggs are ripe. As a result, the farmer must check extremely frequently on the fish, or risk missing to ideal time-frame to harvest the eggs.
To produce the next generation of sturgeon, a portion of the eggs are chosen when ripe, fertilised and incubated. At this stage, the sturgeon eggs can be very sticky, so are commonly mixed with a small amount of clay to stop clumping. After 1-month of incubation, the sturgeon larvae weigh around 1-gram and are well on their way to becoming the next generation of caviar producing fish.
Which country has the best caviar?
The Caspian Sea’s water quality has long attracted sturgeons and allowed them to thrive. Given their proximity to these waters, Iran and Russia have become known for their high-quality caviar, to an almost sterotypical degree. In reality, a vast range of countries now produce and export caviar, across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.
Rather than basing a caviar purchase on nationality, it is more sensible to look into the individual producer and supplier. Do they have a strong reputation in the industry? How long have they been operating for? Are they a large producer or a smaller artisan operation?
How much does caviar cost?
While caviar is known for being expensive, you will find that there are two primary factors which determine the caviar’s price. The first of which, is variety: for example, Beluga caviar will cost more than Sevruga. The second, is quantity, with almost any supplier providing a better caviar price when you order larger amounts. If ordering large amounts of caviar, you should always speak directly to your supplier, as they are likely to be able to provide better prices than would otherwise be available to commerial customers. If ordering a small tin, expect to pay a premium price.
|Caviar||Cost per 10g|
|Avruga||£0.80 – £1.80|
|Lumpfish Roe||£0.80 – £1.40|
|Trout Roe||£0.90 – £1.50|
|Salmon Roe||£1.00 – £1.80|
|Beluga Sturgeon Caviar||£30.00 – £45.00|
|Oscietra Sturgeon Caviar||£14.00 – £25.00|
|Sevruga Sturgeon Caviar||£16.00 – £30.00|
|Albino Beluga Sturgeon Caviar||£130.00 – £180.00|
|Kaluga Sturgeon Caviar||£28.00 – £40.00|
While caviar’s price can vary, it has stabilised greatly in the last decade, since the ban of all wild production. With a greater emphasis on sturgeon farming; production and supply-chains are better forecasted, alleviating extreme variations in supply and demand.
What is American caviar?
Since the 1990s, America has become the world’s largest consumer of caviar, followed closely by Russia. While sturgeon were plentiful when the American continent was first settled, over time populations have dwindled due to damming, fishing and pollution, leading to bans on wild sturgeon fishing: heavily limiting domestic wild caviar production.
American caviar today more often comprises a range of lesser roes, commonly from Hackleback, Bowfin and Paddlefish. While these are not formally caviar, all are widley consumed as caviar substitutes, and of mixed quality.
Transmontanus caviar conversely is roe from white sturgeon, and these are frequently farmed in California, where they are also found in the wild. This roe is thought to be of a very high quality, and comparable to Beluga and Sevruga.
Domestic Beluga caviar is available in the USA, however there are only a handful of producers as of 2022.
What is Chinese caviar?
China has quickly become a large producer of caviar in recent years and is now the largest exporter of caviar to the international market. Buyers should be aware of the wide range in quality of Chinese caviar. It can be challenging to tell which is of high-quality without prior experience or knowledge in the Chinese caviar market.
A good starting point for finding reliably high-quality Chinese caviar is geography. The Amur River in far north-east China is shared between China and Russia – defining the border between the two for hundreds of kilometers.
Large “Kaluga” sturgeon are not uncommon in these waters and they produces a caviar similar to the Beluga sturgeon. In the past decade more fisheries on the Chinese side of the river have become successful, with strong commercial investment since the late 1990s. This growth is set to continue for the next decade. There’s little doubt we’ll be hearing more about the quality of Chinese caviar from the region in coming years.
Is caviar halal?
With many of the best caviar fisheries operating in Iran, caviar is generally considered to be Halal, and permitted in Islam.
This is frequently defended by Koran 5:96: “Permitted to you is the catch of the sea and the food of it.”
Is caviar kosher?
Fins and removable scales are required for a fish to be kosher. Because most, if not all sturgeons do not have removable scales, sturgeon caviar is not kosher. Roe from other fish, such as salmon are likely kosher, as the scales of the fish are easily removed without damaging the skin.
ohr.edu’s “Ask a rabbi” section summarises this beautifully:
“A fish is kosher only if it has scales which can be removed from the skin. If the scales are not removable, the fish is not kosher.”
“Take sturgeon, for example. Sturgeon is often smoked and its eggs used for caviar. But it’s not kosher, because its scales can’t be removed without ripping the skin.”
If you take the hard-line approach that only sturgeon roe qualifies as caviar, then no, caviar is not kosher.
What is the difference between caviar and roe?
All fish eggs can be considered to be “roe” (i.e. Salmon roe). Only sturgeon from the Acipenseridae family are generally considered to be caviar. Other fish eggs can be considered “caviar substitutes”, but not proper caviar.
What is pressed caviar?
Pressed caviar (sometimes called “Payusnaya”) is a concentrated caviar paste, created from lower grades of sturgeon roe. The eggs are mixed, salted, drained of excess moisture, and pressed tightly to make a solid, dark paste which resembles shoe polish, with a delicate spreadable texture like foie gras. This pressing process reduces the caviar’s volume to only about 15% of what it was initially. This results in an intense, concentrated flavour, meaning pressed-caviar can be spread extremely thinly, while still yielding a full and rich flavour.
What is Avruga?
Avruga “caviar” is a Spanish fish product, typically made from herring and a range of other ingredients, including squid ink. It does not contain any roe, let alone roe which could be considered true caviar.
Avruga has a unique, sometimes smoky taste however, and may be a worthwhile caviar substitute for you to explore.
What is Masago?
Masago is the roe of the small Capelin fish, native to cold, northern oceans. Its orange colour means it is sometime confused for salmon roe, however Masago possess a very different, unique flavour and less crunchy texture.
It is most commonly used in Asian cuisine; primarily as a garnish for sushi, oysters and other seafood. It is said to compliment the hotter flavours of wasabi and ginger.
What is Malossol?
Malossol was once a name used to distinguish higher-grade caviar from lesser caviar, from the Russian: “мало (little) соль (salt)”.
Preservatives were not often available when caviar was manufactured in the past, before modern tools and methods. The only remedy was to add salt, but too much salt overpowered the caviar’s flavour and quality, weakened the roe’s cell walls, and caused the caviar to lose its distinctive texture and quality.
As a result, the word “Malossol” was coined to inform both buyers and sellers that the caviar was of the finest quality and taste and had not been unduly salted (about 4%). In many cases, borax is added to reduce the total amount of salting required.
Are caviar eggs fertilised?
No. Much like chicken eggs, those which are produced as food are not fertilised.
Sturgeon eggs are only fertilised outside of the fish, after dropping (spawning). Caviar instead is directly extracted from the sturgeon’s body itself; to processing, storage and the food supply chain. There is zero chance of caviar being fertilised.
What is borax?
Sodium tetraborate (E285, “Borax”) is a mineral added to many caviars, alongside sodium chloride (table salt).
Historically during Russian caviar production on the Caspian Sea, caviar was buried in barrels, in the borax-rich soils near the Caspian Sea. The borax acted as both a preservative and a subtle sweetener: ultimately reducing the amount of salt needed to process the caviar.
In some parts of the world borax is an illegal food additive, meaning it is not used in all caviars. While borax can be toxic is very large amounts, it is generally not considered to be overtly dangerous in the small amounts present in a serving of caviar.
In the UK, the ‘borate’ group of compounds was categorised as possibly dangerous to health in 2010. This led to borax being banned as a food ingredient in the United Kingdom.
What is a caviar key?
Caviar tins will often open with a small amount of pressure applied to the lid, while others may need several minutes of continuous pressure to open.
As a result, you might want to invest in a caviar key. A caviar key is a tiny metal tool that allows opening of caviar tins quickly and straightforwardly, which is essential when serving caviar in a professional or commercial setting.
If you are not able to acquire a caviar key, almost any thin, small metal object can achieve the same effect, sliding into the small gap between the base and the lid of the tin.
Are there health benefits to caviar?
Caviar contains a wide range of amino acids and proteins, including omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are essential to the body’s health. It is also rich in acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter of the nervous system, often used as a nootropic supplement itself.
L-arginine is present in caviar, as in lobsters, oysters and other seafoods. Its role as a vascular dilator lends to its reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Calorie-wise, caviar is not unhealthy; typically around 2.5 calories per gram, making it easy to integrate into a range of diets. Caviar also contains significant amounts of calcium and vitamins A, B12, D, and E in a single portion.
In recent years, caviar also become a popular ingredient in skincare products as an anti-aging moisturising agent. It is said to enhance general skin texture, protect against UV radiation, inhibit elastin breakdown, increase collagen formation, and decrease inflammation.
|Nutrients in a 28-gram serving||Amount|
|Vitamin B12||236% of the daily needs|
|Selenium||34% of the daily needs|
|Iron||19% of the daily needs|
|Sodium||18% of the daily needs|
What is lumpfish caviar?
Lumpfish “caviar” is roe harvested from the lumpfish. This roe is not from a sturgeon, so is generally not considered to be caviar formally.
Despite this classification, Lumpfish roe can also be delicious, and is much cheaper than “proper” caviar, making it an ideal choice for those who are not highly experienced in tasting caviar and roe.
What is snail caviar?
Snail caviar, sometimes referred to as caviar d’escargot, is a form of caviar made from fresh snail eggs. While this food is now commonly associated with French cuisine, it in fact originates from Tibet. It was not until the early 2000s that Frenchman Dominique Pierru developed a technique for processing the eggs, which creates their pearly appearance and soft texture.
Unprocessed snail caviar will be colourless, indicating that it is recently harvested. The colour of the snail caviar will vary from cream to white after processing. The eggs are blanched, but rarely pasturised and then cured in salt and citric acid. Oil is sometimes used to keep pearls preserved.
Snail caviar is currently not produced in the United Kingdom, thus it must be imported. Because a snail only produces 50 to 100 eggs per year, the farming method is time-consuming and costly. The taste of snail caviar is modestly fishy, like proper caviar, but has deeper, fungus-like earthy tones.
What is caviar butter?
Caviar butter is butter with additional ingredients to impart the flavour of caviar. Quality, texture and consistency may vary, with some caviar butters including whole pearls, while others only have the flavour and scent of caviar.
Pearless caviar butter is ideal in a range of recipes, particularly seafood. Any seafood dish which calls for fish to be cooked in hot butter can be greatly enhanced by pearless caviar butter.
Caviar butter with whole pearls is better with colder food; with bread or charcuterie for example, which will preserve the texture of the pearls.
What is sandwich caviar?
Sandwich caviar (“Smörgåskaviar”) is a Scandinavian fish roe spread which has been popular for many decades in Sweden, Norway and Finland. It is often made from cod roe and a range of vegeatable and herbs, with a strong, creamy, slightly fishy flavour. Commonly it is enjoyed with breads, crackers or eggs, and is available in both smoked and unsmoked varieties. It does not contain sturgeon caviar however.
What is kelp caviar?
Kelp caviar is a caviar substitute made from seaweed. As it’s a plant-based food, it is a popular caviar substitute for both vegetarian and vegan dietary needs.
The nutritional content of kelp caviars are generally good, with a balanced range of nutrients. However, the production process is relatively intensive, including the use of several artificial additives, leading some to label kelp caviar as an ultra-processed food.
Some kelp caviars for sale in the UK do contain fish oils and other animal products, so special care should be taken that the kelp caviar you are buying is suitable for your needs.
What is an ikryanchik?
Ikryanchik broadly translates from Russian as “caviar master”. It refers to the person responsible for harvesting and processing the caviar before packaging. Their job includes sifting, sorting, grading and salting the eggs.
What is smoked caviar?
Smoked caviar refers to two different types of caviar processing, both of which are rare. The first form of smoked caviar is created by using smoked salt during the salting process. The second uses a cold-smoking process, to apply smoked to the roe, while maintaining a very low, near-freezing temperature. Both are very new processes and infrequently used.
Is caviar popular?
EU market data suggests that caviar is becoming increasingly popular, with both imports and exports growing rapidly each year. Even now that wild harvest of caviar has been banned, consumption is at an all-time high, with caviar farms producing record volumes each year.
Is caviar ethical?
Sturgeon were historically killed when caviar was harvested, both in the wild and on farms. However ethical harvesting methods which do not kill the sturgeon are becoming more wide-spread, meaning caviar is slowly becoming a more ethical industry. Some caviar producers certify themselves as “no-kill”, to show they are ethical to consumers.
There are a range of methods for extracting the caviar without killing the sturgeon. A medical caesarean is one of these, however they are not always completely successful, with a significant chance remaining for the sturgeon to die after harvesting is complete.
Less frequently, a small muscle around the caviar is cut, allowing them to slowly be massaged from the fish. Again, the mortality rate is not good for the fish after extraction.
Rarely, producers will harvest the caviar after the natural spawning process has taken place, but this is largely regarded to produce low-quality, if not spoilt caviar. Methods are currently being developed to harvest the caviar during spawning, while maintaining its quality, though this is yet to be demonstrated and implemented to large commercial operations.
In terms of endangerment to the sturgeon itself, hatcheries and farms are thought to have a net positive effect on the wild sturgeon population. As such, commercial interests are in the long-term likely to support a healthy wild sturgeon population.
What is Exmoor caviar?
Exmoor Caviar is a Cornish brand of caviar, not a type of caviar. Exmoor Caviar produce and supply a variety of caviars for both buinesses and consumers in the UK.
While much of Exmoor’s caviar is produced in the UK, they also offer caviars produced China. Be certain to read carefully what you are buying if you intend to purchase British farmed caviar.
Can I eat caviar everyday?
Caviar is certainly safe to eat every day, however it is usually enjoyed best as a treat or indulgence. By eating caviar every day you run the risk of perceiving it’s taste and texture as commonplace, which could lead to boredom with your food choices.
Where can I buy caviar in the UK?
Caviar is not enormously popular in the UK. This means that it is not often available at food shops; instead only to be found in specialty food stores.
I have searched many UK supermarkets, including ASDA, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsburys but have not found any caviar or roe products in 2020, 2021 or 2022.
This makes buying caviar online a much more sensible option than trying to source it locally. There are a range of providers to explore:
Fine Food Specialist have been my caviar supplier of choice for the past 2 – 3 years. Delivery in the UK has been quick and often free. The range of caviar is strong, and essential tablewear and garnishes are available at reasonable prices too.
I love the packaging of Gourmet House’s caviar tins. They’re a real sight to behold, using gold foil to mime the black-gold tones you would hope to see from delicious sturgeon roe. They stock many of the aforementioned Exmoor Caviar’s products. Free delivery is often available in seasonal periods.
London Fine Foods only stock Exmoor Caviar at time of writing. The quality of this caviar is good, however more choice would be nice, and I’ll be avoiding this supplier until more variety is prominent.
I Love Caviar’s range is decent, but only covers a limited selection own brand caviars. The website is less attractive and harder to use than some other listed here, making them less preferable.
An attractive selection roe and caviar from the Russian market, including tinned, jarred, dried, smoked and imitation roe. One to explore once you’re bored with Beluga! Packages are not dispatched week-round, making them less available than other suppliers listed here.
With UK deliveries everyday except Sunday, and same-day deliveries available for London Caviar Artisan have great delivery options. I love the prominence of many exceptionally high-quality caviars from both Iran and Russia.
While Fine & Wild’s website is fantastic to use, the caviar offering is very small. Many prices seem stretched – I’m not at all impressed by Fine & Wild.
Caspian Caviar compliment a rich selection of caviar with expertly selected vodkas and champagnes. If you’re looking to order both at the same time, Caspian Caviar are a reasonable choice.
Pricing is decent, range is good, as are delivery options. Imperial Caviar have an impressive selection, including Almas.
A French provider: which can make shipping tricky, however the range of caviar is strong and the products are packaged beautifully.
I find the King’s website unpleseant to use, however it offers a good selection of caviar at ok prices. Just ok.
Great quality of both caviar and pearl accessories. Website is easy to use and delivery terms are good, however range is somewhat limited and few caviars are on display.
- Caviar: A Global History, Nichola Fletcher (2010)
- Caviar Resource Book, V. Sternin, Ian Dore (1993)
- Sturgeon Caviar Processing and Manufacturing Methods, Yan Merkulov (2020)
- The World of Caviar, Olivier Le Goff (1999)
Please get in touch if there’s anything else about caviar which you might not be sure about.