What is True Caviar and how is it graded?

Every day, people around the globe enjoy Caviar, and up till now most of them don’t know exactly what caviar is, and why it is so sought after. Caviar, by definition, is fish eggs (also known as roe), but not all fish roe, however, is used to make caviar (for the most part, not all roe is actually suitable for caviar production).  

The eggs suitable for caviar has its fatty tissues and membranes removed through a filtration process. The remaining “caviar” undergoes a preservation and curing process- an ancient tradition passed down through the ages that is still used to this day- where it is sparingly salted with non-iodized salt.

Historically, caviar was extracted from 25 species of sturgeon in the Acipenseridae. Even today, according to die-hard caviar palates, only the roe from sturgeon is considered “true caviar.” Despite the fact that there are dozens of caviars made from the roe of a variety of non-sturgeon fish such as fish such as salmon, paddlefish, trout, steelhead trout, tuna, lumpfish, and whitefish around the world on the market today are labelled caviar. But according to the UNFAO (the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), fish eggs not obtained from the Acipenseridae species of fish, are not actually “caviar” but instead “caviar substitutes.” 

Grading True Caviar

Given the 25 species of sturgeon, how do consumers tell the difference between one type of caviar and another? The answer is simple- caviar is graded based on how it is processed and the size of the eggs. 

Traditionally, caviar was graded based on the type of sturgeon from which the eggs were extracted, and they are as follows:

Beluga: The most recognized type of caviar due to the size of the eggs (about the size of a pea- the largest around 4-5mm) and are either gray or black in color, and are known to be the most expensive type of caviar largely due to the rareness of Beluga sturgeons (found in the Caspian Sea) as well as from the fact that Beluga sturgeon (Huso Huso) take around 20 years to mature. 

Osetra (Osetrova): A little smaller than Beluga eggs (3-4mm) Osetra (Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii) are either gray, grayish-green, or brown in color (mostly because Russian sturgeon change color as the fish matures). These sturgeons take approximately 12 years to mature. Osetra caviar has a nutty or “creamy walnut taste.” 

Sevruga: Are the smallest eggs (around 2mm) and are green-black in color, and come from the Stellate sturgeon- and are the strongest tasting of the three grades of caviar. These sturgeons mature in 6-7 years, and as a result, the caviar is far less expensive compared to Osetra or Beluga.

“Pressed eggs” are also considered a grade of caviar. Pressed Caviar is caviar paste that is made by pressing the fish eggs that rupture or break when traditional caviar is packed.

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