Caviar is the ultimate luxury ingredient. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s most expensive caviar on record is the Almas caviar from a very rare and very old (between 60 and 100 years old) Albino Beluga sturgeon. This unique golden white caviar is sold for about $34,500 US per kilogram.
Caviar was originally harvested by Russian and Persian fishermen in the Caspian Sea. The term refers to unfertilized salt-cured fish eggs from different species of sturgeon, including Ossetra, Sevruga and Beluga.
There are different types of caviar but it is Beluga, the roe of the endangered Beluga sturgeon found in the Caspian Sea, which takes the cake. At Rs. 9,500 for 30 grams, it makes one think before swallowing a spoonful.
Even the most inexpensive sturgeon caviar is expensive. It would cost at least $50 to $75 for 30 grams, that is, a few good bites for two people. You can get between 8 to 10 (1/2 teaspoon) servings per ounce of caviar. You can get about 20 (1/4 teaspoon) servings per ounce of caviar. For eating caviar straight out of the jar or tin, it works out to at least 1/2 to 1 ounce of caviar per person.
Consisting of salt-cured fish eggs, caviar tastes like fish eggs. However, they do not taste very fishy. If the taste of the caviar is overly salty or excessively fishy, it might be a low-quality or stale product. Caviar should taste mildly fishy and slightly salty. It tastes more like ocean water. It has an elusive taste, more like what the sea reminds you of than any particularly identifiable flavour all by itself.
The quality can be judged by the colour and size of the eggs. Large and mature eggs are firm, have an intense flavour, and a vibrant colour. As you bite into caviar, the eggs should pop with a rich nutty and buttery flavor. It has a chewy and slightly mushy texture that rolls over your tongue.
A distinctive aspect of caviar is about its texture. The eggs pop on your tongue and the rich slightly sweet taste oozes into your mouth while the flavour travels up your nose. The higher-end caviars with bigger eggs are a different experience from the kind of sandy texture in less-expensive caviars.
When sourced from white sturgeon, caviar has a mild fishy taste compared other caviar. Caviar obtained from Hackleback is oily, while Sevruga and Ossetra caviar tastes buttery. The ones packaged in metal containers will taste different.
Caviar should be very fresh and not stored in fluctuating temperatures. Before eating caviar you should know how to serve it. Stainless steel plates and forks may cause it to taste bitter. So ideally, it should be served in glass, plastic, or ceramic container. It must be served chilled as serving it at room temperature may not give the proper taste. It could even be served in a dish of crushed ice to keep it at a lower temperature.
To enjoy the taste of caviar, eat it in small bites, smaller than a tablespoon. It helps in appreciation of both the flavour and texture. Mostly eaten with unsalted crackers in Russia, it is often served over small traditional pancakes called blini. Traditional garnishes such as fresh herbs like dill or parsley, chopped onions, sour cream, or chopped, hard-boiled eggs accentuate the caviar taste.
Caviar is sold in small containers as they are meant to be finished in one serving. Do not save caviar after opening the container. The taste changes if the leftover is eaten later as it spoils after opening. Caviar should be eaten as an appetizer and not as the main course. Eating it in larger quantities may leave you with a bad tasting experience.
Caviar is a source of vitamins and minerals, including Omega-3, which helps promote a healthy nervous, circulatory and immune system. One serving of caviar has an adult’s daily requirement of Vitamin B12. Other nutrients included are vitamins A, E, B6, iron, magnesium and selenium.
In the olden days, when the Caspian was bordered by Iran and the Soviet Union, fishing for sturgeon was tightly regulated and quality was guaranteed. Then in the 1990s after the division of the Soviet Union, the different republics that bordered the Caspian abandoned all regulation and it became a free-for-all. Today, all kinds of junk roe is being mislabelled and cheap caviar is sold as expensive Beluga.
The caviar trade works on the assumption that most people don’t know what caviar should taste like and can’t tell the difference. Plus, it is a special treat and so, there is virtually no repeat business. So it doesn’t matter if consumers don’t like it.
Perhaps this article will help readers from differentiating between the real and junk caviar. Ending the article with an observation. “One can be unhappy before eating caviar, even after, but at least not during.”