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How should you enjoy caviar?

There was a time when caviar was considered a rare delicacy.

Even among the wealthy, it was a special-occasion food, reserved for celebrations.


All that has now changed. Suddenly, caviar is ubiquitous on global restaurant menus. This is because the real price of caviar (adjusted for inflation) is probably a third of what it was at the turn of the century.


   What accounts for the boom? How should you enjoy caviar?


   Some answers to frequently asked questions.


What is caviar?


Caviar is the roe of the sturgeon, a fish now found all over the world. It swims wild in the Caspian Sea, which used to be bound by Iran and the Soviet Union. In the old days, production was tightly controlled by these two countries. The Iranians did not export much caviar, so the Soviet Union had a virtual monopoly. It controlled the fishing, canning and export of caviar and effectively, fixed the price.


What happened when the Soviet Union collapsed?


The land bordering the Caspian Sea was taken over the various newly independent republics. They let sturgeon-fishing become a free-for-all. In the short run, the price of caviar dropped. But in the medium term, over-fishing destroyed the sturgeon population. Russia restricted the export of caviar, wild sturgeon became an endangered species.


So why is there a boom now?


Because most caviar does not come from the Caspian. At the end of the last century, many businessmen invested in caviar farms. Pretty much the only caviar you get now is farmed and it comes from Uruguay, Latvia, France, Bulgaria, Italy, even Myanmar. And China.




The Chinese decided that they would dominate the caviar market, entered the field and farmed the sturgeon. Today, there are more than 400,000 sturgeon in Chinese farms, more than there are in the Caspian Sea. China now produces 60% of the world’s caviar. It sells its caviar at less than half the price of Caspian Sea caviar from Iran. And it is also much cheaper than farmed caviar elsewhere.


"They should pop in the mouth and the caviar should not have a fishy taste. Sadly some of the caviar sold in India can taste like fish jam."

Chinese caviar? Is it any good?


Yes it is. Initially, there was a certain amount of snobbery about Chinese caviar. But now most top chefs use it, and it does well in most comparative tastings.


How many kinds of caviar are there?


There are at least 25 recognised varieties of the sturgeon. But over the years, three types of surgeon have been prized for their eggs: sevruga, ossetra, and beluga.


   Sevruga is what most of us think of as caviar, with small gray-to-black eggs that pop in your mouth. Ossetra is now more popular because the ossetra sturgeon is easier to farm. The eggs are a lighter shade of gray-to-black and are larger than most sevruga. Beluga should have much larger eggs and a nutty flavour, with a creamy mouthfeel. Good beluga is hard to find because it takes 20 years for a farmed sturgeon to produce, so much of the caviar labelled as beluga is either bogus or harvested before it’s ready. It has smaller eggs and tastes nothing like the real thing.


   These are the classic varieties, but the situation is complicated because farmed caviar often comes from cross-bred fish and does not follow these classifications.


What should I look for?


Eggs that are separate and distinct. They should pop in the mouth and the caviar should not have a fishy taste. Sadly some of the caviar sold in India can taste like fish jam.


How do I eat it?


It is easier to say how you don’t eat it: The old way with egg, onion, lemon etc is out. These accompaniments were used to a) make the caviar go further and b) to mask the fishy taste of over-the-hill caviar.


   You can eat caviar neat: It is common now for people to do caviar bumps, put a little caviar on your fist and eat it straight.


   If you want a more sophisticated approach, remember that fat goes well with caviar. So put it on toast with butter on sour cream. It goes well with potatoes too.


Is it vegetarian?


It can be. Many caviar farms extract the roe without killing the fish, but this varies from farm to farm. Ask before you buy.


Is it worth the money?


In the old days, often not. But now, a can of good caviar is cheaper than a bottle of champagne. So if you are celebrating, then yes, do splash out.



Posted On: 24 Feb 2023 02:10 PM
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