Quick Caviar Facts The word caviar comes from the Turkish word "havyar, " meaning salted fish roe. "Real" caviar is made only from sturgeon roe.
There are 26 species of sturgeon world wide, five of which swim in American rivers. But, as a source of caviar, only a handful have commercial importance. Fish roes other than sturgeon roe may be used for caviar, but then the label should indicate the name of the fish from which it was made, such as, "salmon caviar, " or "whitefish caviar." Take into account that such caviars range in color from black to br ight red and are sometimes even dyed to increase their likeliness to sturgeon caviar as well as their marketability. The dye does not affect the flavor, but may leave a tinge of color in your mouth.
Between 80 to 90 percent of the world's caviar comes from the Caspian Sea area. But as the environmental catastrophies around the Caspian Sea increase, quantity, and quality, of their caviar plummet . A serious concern for the wholesomeness of the Caspia n caviar is therefore justified. In the last decade a significant new caviar producing region has emerged from Far East Siberia and Manchuria, producing a much finer and fresher quality of caviar. These two regions were deve loped by the owners of California Sunshine in the mid 80's. These Eastern Siberian rivers contribute about 8 to 10 percent of the total world caviar suppply.
Beluga Among the four classic varieties of caviar, the choice of the connoisseurs is the Beluga caviar. It is produced from the eggs of the Huso Dauricus and the Huso Huso sturgeon, the largest in the sturgeon family. Both these sturgeon are carniverous, eating other fish such as
an equivalent of 300 lbs of caviar. The taste is exquisitely delicate, soft, and smooth, with a hint of sweetness to a slight nutty taste. A decade ago, only five percent of the total production of Caspian Sea caviar was Beluga.
Currently this amount has shrunk even further to less than one percent, or less than one ton. The eastern Siberian rivers generate about 45 percent Beluga of the tot al harvest, or approximately 10 tons of Beluga caviar per year.
Osetra The second most prestigious caviar is the Osetra. The Osetra caviar is produced from the roe of a hand full of sturgeon from the Asipenserea family. The eggs of the Osetra caviar are characteristically yellow brown to dark black/green color with a sheen o f gold. Its flavor is rich and full with a hazlenut taste. The Osetra sturgeon are smaller than the Beluga and can weigh up to about 500 lbs with an average weight of about 200 to 300 lbs. The Asipenser sturgeon may sometimes produce a roe which is light yellow to gold brown in color. Caviar from such roe is called Imperial caviar or Sturgeon Golden Caviar. It originates from an albino sturgeon and while it is quite rare in the Caspian Sea, it is more frequently found in the eastern Siberian rivers. In the past, such caviar was reserved for the Russian Tsars, the Shah of Persia and the Emperor of Manchuria.
Sevruga The Sevruga sturgeon is the smallest of the three sturgeon and seldom reaches a length of more than five feet and a weight of some 50 to 60 pounds. It is omnivorous, like the Osetra. It feeds off algea and crustaceams which may contribute to an inconsiste nt taste of the caviar in some rare instances. The Sevruga Caviar is gray black with a medium to small grain, much smaller than the Osetra Caviar. It has a strong yet delicate flavor. The Sevruga Caviar is the most affordable of the three caviars. This sturgeon is unique to the Caspian and Black Sea regions and is not found in the eastern Siberian River System.
Pressed Caviars Pressed Caviar is simply overmature, moist -yet fresh- caviar which has been pressed to sift out the excess liquid. This caviar has a stronger flavor, somewhat fishy, with an above average salty taste. The cost of Pressed Caviar is only slightly less than that of the Sevruga.
Sturgeon grow slowly, reaching sexual maturity in the wild at 15 - 20 years old and can live as long as 100 years. Once the females have reached sexual maturity they will produce millions of eggs every two to three years. The harvest season begins in earl y spring when the sturgeon begin swiming up river to spawn.
However, for premium quality caviar, the roe should not be harvested early in the spawing season, but rather towards the end of the season.
A late harvest gives the roe a firmer and more succulen t flavor.
It is extremely important to use a gentle hand while processing the roe to avoid damaging the soft, delicate eggs. After rinsing, cleaning and draining the roe, it is processed with pure salt, drained again and packed into tightly sealed cans. This proc ess has not changed in its essential parts over the past few centuries, with the exception that a significantly smaller amount of salt is now used. In the days of no refrigeration the sturgeon roe was heavily salted up to 12 to 15 percent of its weight so it could be preserved for a longer period of time.
Today, however, caviar contains a scant amount of 2.8 to 3.5 percent salt. This caviar is refered to as "Malossol, " Russian for "little salt." Malossol Caviar is not a trade mark, rather an important des cription of how the caviar was processed.
About two weeks after the processing, the caviar is ready to eat.
But experienced caviar tasters prefer to eat the caviar within the first six months when the caviar is at its fullest and freshest taste. With proper packaging and storing- in the original tin, chilled between a constant temperature of -5 °C (23F) and -2 °C (26F) and tightly sealed- the caviar can stay fresh for about two years. Keep in mind that home refrigerators are too warm and the freezers too cold so the caviar may not last as long as it does in our temperature controlled refrigerators. Caviar suppliers repack the caviar into smaller jars to the selection and choice of each customer. When packed in smaller jars the caviar should be consumed within a few weeks.
Once the jar is opened, the caviar should be enjoyed within a few days.
Only the finest, purest salt should be used for processing. The salt should contain no iodine or other additives. Caviar produced for most European countries, such as France and England, as well as caviar produced for duty free shops contain borax or boric acid as a preservative agent. This gives the caviar a sweeter taste. Due to health regulations, however, these two ingredients are not permitted in the Usa or Japan.
Russian=Ikra, Khavyah=Persian Caviar, by law, is the salted roe of sturgeon. If it comes from another fish, it has to be indicated as such, eg. Keta, Whitefish, Flying Fish etc. There are 3 commercially viable species harvested for roe processing in order of importance: 1.
) Beluga, the largest and produces also the largest roe.Black in color with tinge of silver-gray. Most expensive with one exception=Golden or Shah Kavia from a fourth species, the sterlett, mainly extinct, mainly from Iran (export block).
2. ) Sevruga, the smallest, silver tinged, harder eggs. Less expensive (no caviar is cheap by any means), most abundant.
3. ) Osetra, sometimes as large as beluga ( the roe, not the species). Brownish black in color. Most often confused with beluga. Abundant. The majority is caught in the caspian sea, the mouth of the volga river.
Some production in the black sea and Kamchatka peninsula. Processed malosol=1 lbs of salt per pud (42 lbs) of screened roe. Packed in 1.8 kg tins and repacked by importers into smaller units. Sometimes reference is made to a another type of caviar=Ship. That refers to not yet another sturgeon species but to caviar processed with a small amount of borax. A salt and an excellent preservative. Mostly served years ago on oceanliners crossing from Europa. It is however still produced but outlawed in the Usa cause one rat turned in her spoon when fed too much borax. Borax processed caviar is much less salty, sweeter and generally much more flavorfull. You have to go to Russia to get it. Caviar is high in protein and therefor highly perishable. Buy with your tastebuds only. Serve with Blini, Kwas (sort of like creme fraiche, just slightly more acidic), lemon if you must and frozen wodka only.
All other accoutrements like onion, chopped eggs, capers, chopped beets, are used to mask the flavor of inferior caviar only. The caviar should remain in its original tin from whence it came and should not be served icecold. It will chill its taste. Only spoons made of horn should be used for service, traditionally and because silver tends to react with the salt in caviar. Caviar is color graded from single to triple Zero. From darkest to lightest.
America had a thriving caviar industry before the turn of the century on the Hudson river in Ny and pollution all but destroyed it. There is some caviar processed in Wa&Or from the Columbia river, however, insignificant amounts. Its hard to beat the Russians and Iranians. They have been doing it for centuries and are excellent at it. Major American importers are Petrossian, Romanoff and Iron Gate. For more info consult the pricey but excellent book : Caviar! Caviar! Caviar! by Gerald M. Stein, Isbn 0-8184-0315-2.
H.W. Kuntze, Cmc hkuntze@cris. Com