CAV101: Fundamentals Of Caviar
What Is Caviar?
Caviar in short is sturgeon eggs mixed with salt for preservation. This delicacy is traditionally served on a cracker/blini with a dot of crème fraise and chives. Caviar as an ingredient can also be used as a garnish as well as a spread.
All “caviar” is considered “roe”; however, “roe” is not considered “caviar”. Roe refers to a mass of eggs found in the ovaries of a female fish or shellfish. Caviar is the salt cured roe from the Acipenseridae family.
When purchasing caviar, it is important to understand the differences between sturgeon caviar and non-sturgeon roe. Sturgeon caviar can be seen in the marketplace labeled as “Black Caviar”. Non-surgeon roe is often marketed as “Red Caviar”, although it does not conform with the traditional definition of caviar.
These elegant eggs are not just a gastronomical delight, caviar is also jam packed with essential minerals and nutrients. One teaspoon of caviar has over a gram of Omega-3 fatty acids and is also a good source of vitamins C, A, D, calcium, phosphorus, protein, selenium, and iron.
What factors affect the price of caviar?
The type of fish:
Certain species of sturgeon are rarer than others, depending on which one can greatly affect market value. Please note that species can affect production time and harvesting as maturation periods and maximum size capacity varies within the same family.
Production time refers to the span it takes for the fish to fully mature and develop harvestable eggs. As sturgeon are known to be slow maturing with a longer life expectancy, production time is major factor when determining the price of caviar.
Harvesting and processing method:
This aspect touches on all handling and processing procedures after the sturgeon has reached sexual maturity and is ready to harvest. Caviar preservation is labor intensive as all processing is done by hand. Inspection, harvesting, washing, curing, and aging of these fragile fish eggs require many hours and skilled workers as these processes have not yet been automated.
Supply and Demand:
When weighing out factors which affect price, we see the demand for caviar is constantly growing. High prices in the caviar market is a result from the long turn over period from hatch to harvest. Supply is limited by the product and process.
Quality and Grading:
Fresh caviar eggs should have a crisp scent like an ocean breeze. The oceanic fragrance is an indication of fresh eggs, high quality caviar should never smell fishy.
Sturgeon eggs undergo slight changes in color when maturing. Some species of sturgeon start off with dark grey eggs which turn a light golden brown as the fish develops. Generally speaking; a lighter shade sells for a higher price as it takes more time and resources for the fish to grow to this stage.
Egg lucidity refers to the brightness/ glossiness of the caviar. A shiny outer coating is a strong indication of fresh eggs as well as proper storage.
Caviar tastes best when processed at their prime age. In general, female sturgeon must grow for at least 10 years before their eggs are ready to harvest. However, some higher quality species require 18-22 years of maturation before being ready to harvest. Eggs harvested from an older fish calls for a higher price.
Egg Shell Hardness:
Egg shells must be robust enough to tolerate sieving, curing, and packaging. However, still tender enough to pop under slight pressure and melt in your mouth.
Egg size can vary depending on the species of sturgeon. Egg size should correspond to respective species, that way we know for sure that only mature and fit eggs were used in the caviar making process.
Egg uniformity refers to the general appearance of the caviar. High quality caviar should be consistent in size, color, and texture. The sorting of eggs is a crucial step when processing and grading caviar.
Separation of Egg Grains:
Separation of egg grains is an indicator for what sieving process and equipment was used.
How to Serve?
1) It is important to place your caviar tin over a bed of crushed ice. Fluctuations in temperature can negatively affect flavor and texture.
2) DO NOT use stainless steel or silver spoons as your caviar will take on a metallic taste. Instead use plastic, mother of pearl, or gold-plated spoons.
3) Caviar is best served on a piece of bread, blini, or toast. Condiments which compliment well with caviar include crème fraise, hard-boiled egg yolks, chives, and lemon.
What we Carry:
Also known as Huso Dauricus or the river Beluga. This species of sturgeon claims the title for world’s largest fresh-water fish and can be found in the Amur River bordering both China/Russia. Kaluga caviar is known to have large glossy eggs with a mild, buttery taste
Also known as Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii or the diamond sturgeon. Found in the Caspian Sea, this species of sturgeon grows smaller than Kaluga. Naturally, the eggs are slightly smaller (but still considered large) and have flavors ranging from nutty to fruity, with a buttery finish.
Also referred to as White Sturgeon, Pacific Sturgeon, or Acipenser Transmontanus. This species can be found along the Gulf of Alaska all the way down to the western coast of California. In our list, this species would have the smallest eggs, however, it packs a mild, nutty, and creamy flavor.
Also known as Acipenser Baerii. This species of sturgeon is commonly found in rivers and lakes leading to the East Siberian Sea as well as Kazakhstan and China. Eggs are averaged sized with a mild fish flavor and a nutty, buttery finish.