Caviar – along with luxurious real estate, high fashion, and iconic cars, is one of the hallmarks of wealth and hedonism.
But how did an ingredient that is technically fish innards got on the highest level of appreciation and desire, becoming the culinary embodiment of luxury and sophistication?
In this article, we shall analyze the phenomenon of Caviar and try to draw the line in the eternal argument: whether Caviar is an imposed whim from the world of rich and famous or those black pearls are the true treasure of the culinary world.
What is Caviar?
Indeed, talking about Caviar, some people instantly associate it with the integral ingredient of high cuisine while others mostly think of “fish eggs.” However, except for the experts, hardly does anybody know the true nature of this product.
Technically, Caviar is fish eggs. But the concept is a little bit more complicated than this. Authentic Caviar – the roe - comes from the carefully bred representatives of the sturgeon fish family.
Roe is a pretty diverse product. It may come from different fish. For example, in Japanese cuisine, you will find Ikura – the bright orange salmon roe. It is a popular sushi ingredient. This product is also pretty popular in the Eastern European countries, where it is called the Red Caviar. However, only the sturgeon roe is considered to be the Caviar in the culinary world.
At the same time, the term “Black Caviar” often used towards sturgeon roe, especially in the countries where the salmon product is particularly popular, is also pretty notional.
The color of Caviar may vary depending on the specific sturgeon breed, climate, and many other factors that accompany the growth and harvesting of the product. From truly jet black, the color of Caviar may range to khaki-green.
Is Caviar all the same?
You may find several types of Sturgeon on the modern market. However, culinary experts and Caviar appreciators consider Kaluga and Russian Osetra (the Diamond or Russian Sturgeon) the ultimate hallmark of the product.
Known internationally as Huso Daicurus, Kaluga Caviar is the roes of mature, over 15 years old, Sturgeon.
Kaluga Caviar has a distinctive brownish=green or brownish-grey color and smooth texture with a specific sheen.
There are also various hybrids of sturgeon fish. The most famous one is the so-called Hybrid sturgeon caviar (Acipenser Schrenckii + Huso Dauricus).
This unique hybrid inhabits the Amur River between China and Russia. The Sturgeon naturally matures at 8-10 years old, can live up to 60 years, and reach over 50kg (~110 lbs)
Its Caviar can be dark olive, green or light grey and has a specific strong creamy flavor and long-lasting after taste.
The taste of Caviar.
As long as we talk about a fish product, most people imagine the specific flavors and textures typical for this food group, which often seem pretty repulsive.
However, the whole phenomenon of Caviar may lie in its unique taste and flavor. Despite the common prejudice, the taste of Caviar is not “fishy” at all. It does not carry the traditional saltiness associated with fish products also.
Authentic Caviar has a smooth, delicate texture and a sophisticated rich buttery taste. Of course, the flavor also varies according to the type and breed of the Sturgeon. True gourmands often distinguish pretty specific nutty flavor in certain Caviar types. You may vaguely compare it to the taste of Hazelnut.
Another distinguishing quality of Caviar is the so-called “Caspian pop.” It is the unequaled sensation that occurs when a roe ball explodes on your palette.
Where does Caviar come from?
Originally Caviar was harvested from the wild Sturgeon only. It was the fish that mainly inhabited the Caspian Sea. That is where the “Caspian pop” term came from. People used the Black Se sturgeon also.
However, fishing and caviar harvesting methods were unethical, pretty barbaric, and soon enough led to the fact that wild Sturgeon became a critically endangered species.
Several decades ago, Caviar harvesting and sale became objects of severe restrictions and trade embargos. Mainly the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species released a series of claims that made harvesting and sale of wild sturgeon caviar strictly illegal on the United States territory. Later on, Russia – the country that served as the primary supplier of wild Sturgeon released a statement that technically equaled Caviar export to international drug smuggling.
Those events have dramatically changed the traditional map of the Caviar trade. From now on, the quality of Caviar, its taste, flavor, and other features were not distinguished by the geography and climate of the Sturgeon inhabitant, but the reputation of the farm, where fish came from.
Today you may find a number of reputable Sturgeon farms worldwide: from Russia, Europe, and United States to China and Iran. Each region has its own rich history and heritage that allows manufacturing its signature Caviar.
Is Caviar that expensive?
Just like with any product, especially on the food market, the price of Caviar is dramatically affected by the development of sturgeon farms and various fish breeds.
Indeed, today you may find examples of the product with a $100 per ounce price tag. However, this is precisely the “you get what you pay for” situation.
The price of Caviar often directly reflects the time and effort farmers put into the product development as well as the ethical aspect of the matter. The conditions and breeding methods as well as harvesting techniques don’t only influence the taste and texture of the product but also become a crucial moral factor for the true appreciators and experts in the product.
Under these conditions and due to the raising awareness about mindful and sustainable consumption, the high-ended prices on truly quality Caviar become pretty justified.
Buying Caviar, it is vital to stick to reputable and experienced suppliers who focus all their operation and effort on this particular extremely complicated product. Only such sellers can guarantee proper production, handling, storage, and delivery of you Caviar, so you and your guests can cognize the phenomenon of Caviar and discover the world of true culinary sophistication.