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What Exactly Is Caviar?

When I think about caviar, I think about luxurious cars being driven away by a valet, champagne glasses, and black and white tuxedos. I think of a dinner party at one of the most elegant houses in any neighborhood I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. What is it that makes these things click in my brain when I think of caviar, though? Now that I think about it, what exactly is caviar anyways?

Caviar is the fish eggs, or roe, of one of the several types of fish species from the Sturgeon family. Now, while all fish lay “roe,” not all fish roe is fit for human consumption. Further, the only type of fish that can produce the roe known as caviar is the Sturgeon fish. Sturgeon fish are prehistoric species that have been on Earth for nearly 200 million years. Some Sturgeon have been known to grow to over 2500 pounds, but on average they grow to just over 50 pounds. 

Traditionally, caviar classification was only suitable when the fish roe was taken from the Black and Caspian Seas of the Mediterranean. Now, due to overfishing and overexploitation, the caviar taken from the fish in those areas is coveted among all others. Among the most expensive caviar in the entire world comes from the Beluga species of Sturgeon, and is extremely difficult to come by, not to mention wildly expensive. 

To further complicate the caviar classification, we need to look at the individual quality of the roe that comes from each fish. Generally, there are two types of caviar classification, Grade 1 and Grade 2. To be considered Grade 1 caviar, the roe must be large in diameter, be firm to the touch, and entirely intact. This means no broken roe in a batch, or it will not meet the grade requirements. Grade 2 caviar is the less beautiful roe. The roe may be smaller in diameter, have more firm texture, and not as symmetrical as grade 1 caviar. The best-of-the-best is also graded by its color. Beluga caviar varies in color between light gray and silver colors and even gold in the rarest of occasions. 

Now that we have some background on just what caviar is, let’s explore its taste and texture.

Caviar is said to be an experience in food, unlike any other. The texture of the caviar can be just as impressive as its taste. Being fish roe, you expect that it will have a fishy taste. But what you don’t expect is the variation in salty and sweet flavors. The difference between wild caviar and farmed caviar will also have an impact on flavor. Because wild fish have a diet that is not nearly as consistent as farmed fish, wild caviar taste is far more complex. The uniformity of a diet for farmed fish will produce caviar that is far more consistent. Tastes can jump across the board and can include salt, butter, brine, and even nutty flavors. 

The caviar’s texture is something that either draws people to enjoy it or drives them away—the roe bursts in your mouth to different degrees based on quality and size. The flavor shockingly emerges from the caviar, and for caviar enthusiasts, it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of consuming it. 

While caviar does have its place among wealthy consumers and classy dinner parties, it is certainly not exclusive. There are options for those of us who want to explore our pallets and see out how the other side lives. Pick a night, grab a bottle of champagne, some affordable caviar, and enjoy yourself. After all, we only live once.

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