What is Caviar? Caviar is without a doubt the most luxurious and exclusive food known to man. The Persians are the first group of people known to regularly consume sturgeon eggs, hence the name which comes from the Persian word which literally translates as a generator”. They believed this delicious delicacy would enhance the strength and endurance of anyone who ate it.
Even in ancient times, however, caviar was considered a luxury foodstuff reserved only for the elite. It disappeared from people’s tables during the Middle Ages only to reemerge in 12th Century Russia when fishermen and peasants began using it as a cheap source of protein. Their people had endured great poverty and as there were plenty of sturgeons at the time, caviar was easy to obtain.
Julius II, the “Warrior Pope”, was a notorious gourmand with a healthy appetite for sturgeon eggs. Besides being the patron of Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Julius II also introduced caviar to royal ceremonies across Europe, reaffirming its status as an exclusive, high-quality foodstuff. Around the same time, the famous Russian Czar Peter the Great also developed a passion for caviar and consumed it in great quantities.
Sadly, sturgeon eggs are so highly prized that the species itself is near extinction: white caviar, which comes from 100-year old albino fish, in particular, has become an extremely rare delicacy. Albino sturgeon are born without any of the natural dye melanin, a defect they pass on to their eggs.
The exclusivity and vast cost of caviar can seem a little intimidating at first but even a beginner can easily understand the main types of caviar, as well as look for the characteristics that make for a truly great dining experience.
What is Caviar, and What are The Types of Caviar?
While it’s true that caviar refers to fish eggs, most types are prepared before being suitable to eat either by lightly salting or curing them. The four main types of caviar are Almas, Beluga Osciétre and Sevruga. These all vary in size, color, and flavor. These differences, as well as the availability of each type of caviar, help determine their cost.
1- Almas the Diamond Caviar
Almas (meaning ‘diamond’) is the most expensive and exclusive type of caviar. It’s also the preferred type of the Ancient Greeks who imported it all the way from the area that’s now Crimea in Southern Ukraine. Specifically, the eggs are harvested from the albino beluga sturgeon, which is found only in the Caspian Sea. If you want to get your hands on some Almas, you’ll need to go to one of the very few select Caviar House & Prunier Stores, the only place in the world where it’s available for sale. The caviar itself comes in a metal container bathed in
24-carat gold, making it perfect as a luxury gift. One kilo (2.2lb) of Almas can cost upwards of US$53,400, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records makes it the most expensive food in the world.
The high cost can partly be explained by the rarity of albino sturgeons, who mainly live on the Iranian side of the Caspian Sea. The eggs are also only harvested from sturgeon over 100 years old. This gives them a spongier texture than those taken from younger fish. The caviar is then delicately salted to draw out Almas’ distinctive nutty, creamy taste.
Almas are usually served in a non-metallic dish, to avoid tainting its distinctive flavor. Often ice is placed at the base to keep the caviar at the correct temperature. Like most forms of caviar, Almas is typically served on toast, slices of bread, blinis, or crackers. Great care is taken to keep the eggs intact, which improves the taste.
2- Beluga Caviar
Beluga Caviar also comes from sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and is the next most expensive after Almas. Although more common than the albino variety, Beluga is still relatively rare and as such has served as a luxury treat for royal families over the centuries.
Beluga has the largest individual eggs of all caviar. Each orb can be as large as a pea and ranges in color from pale silver or gray to dark, black. The flavor is a balanced, buttery saltiness. lt is best enjoyed with minimal, simple accompaniments, such as on blini or triangles of toast.
3- Osciétre Caviar
Although Osciétre sturgeon are originally from the Caspian their dwindling numbers means that most these days are kept in farms, to ensure the production of high-quality caviar. Oscietre eggs are smaller than the large Beluga caviar but still have a good and consistent size and shape. The flavors of Oscietre caviar are more subtle than other types of caviar, with more of a seafood taste. The caviar also varies from deep brown to gold in color. Generally lighter colored eggs are from older sturgeons. They have a richer flavor and higher price tag than those with a darker hue.
4- Sévruga Caviar
Sévruga sturgeon are native to the Aegean, Black & Caspian Seas. However, the Sévruga caviar is only from the Caspian Sea’s Sévruga sturgeon. The “starry sturgeon” is the most common kind and it also reproduces more quickly than both the Beluga and Osciétre sturgeon. As a result, caviar is the most available and least expensive caviar variety. As the smallest caviar-producing sturgeon, the starry sturgeon also produces the smallest eggs. The eggs themselves are pearlescent light-grey in color. The flavor is distinctly marine but has a delicate, creamy aftertaste.
What Does Caviar Taste Like?
When attempting to tell someone what caviar tastes like, “kinda salty and fishy” just doesn’t cover it. Some experts claim there are around 15 different flavors you can experience when eating caviar, and the taste is never the same from one roe to the next. This is why it is so difficult to explain caviar’s flavor to novice roe eaters. The taste of malossol caviar can be an elusive sensation that is more like what the sea reminds you of than any particularly identifiable flavor all by itself.
The flavors associated with caviar do have common explanations: a breath of the sea, a touch of salt, the delicate flavor of fresh fish, sometimes smooth and nutty, full of sweet brine that pops in your mouth and fills your nose, like good raw oysters but richer. However, any given depiction ends up being underwhelming compared to the experience itself. Some caviar can have buttery, velvety or creamy notes, along with flavors you might not notice unless you were expecting them. While the complexity of high-end caviar might be lost on someone new to the delicacy, it is important to try an array of the different types to better understand the taste and texture of caviar.
There’s no substitute for the real thing.
In this short roundup, you’ve learned about the four main types of caviar, however, there are any number of cross-breeds and those from other varieties of sturgeon around the world from places like China. No amount of text could also ever replace the actual experience of savoring caviar for yourself, for the very first time. Why not try to find a supplier in your area?
If you’ve taken our tips to try caviar or simply want to find out more, we’d love to hear from you, so please share your comments with us below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the last word on luxury from around the world.
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Featured image source: Tasteatlas.com