Caviar is the processed, salted roe of certain species of
fish, most notably the sturgeon (black caviar) and the salmon (red caviar). It
is commercially marketed worldwide as a delicacy and is eaten as a garnish or a
spread; for example, with hors d'œuvres.
Left: Red caviar with bread.
The word caviar entered English via Italian "caviale",
though it is ultimately derived from Persian (Farsi) خاویار, from khaya "egg". In Persian, the word refers to
both the sturgeon and its roe; in Russian, the word èêðà (ikra), "roe", is used.
The Russian word malosol ("little salt") sometimes appears on caviar tins to
show that the caviar is minimally salted; typically, caviar contains 4% to 8%
salt, with the better-brand varieties generally being less salted.
This elegant and expensive appetizer is simply sieved and
lightly salted fish roe (eggs). Sturgeon roe is premium and considered the
"true" caviar. The three main types of caviar are beluga, oestra and
The best (and costliest) is from the beluga sturgeon that swim in the Caspian
Sea, which is bordered by Russia and Iran. Caviar production is a major industry
for both countries. Beluga caviar is prized for its soft, extremely large
(pea-size) eggs. It can range in color from pale silver-gray to black.
Left: Black caviar in a
quality is the medium-sized, gray to brownish oestra, and the smaller, gray
sevruga caviar. The small golden sterlet caviar is so rare that it was once
reserved for Russian czars, Iranian shahs and Austrian emperors. Other popular
(and much less expensive) types include lumpfish caviar (tiny, hard, black eggs,
whitefish caviar (also called American Golden) with its small yellow-gold eggs
and salmon or red caviar (medium-size, pale orange to deep red eggs).
Caviar is extremely perishable and must be refrigerated
immediately until it's consumed. Pasteurized caviar is roe that has been
partially cooked, thereby giving the eggs a slightly different texture. It is
less perishable and may not require refrigeration before opening. Pressed caviar
is composed of damaged or fragile eggs and can be a combination of several
different roes. It's specially treated, salted, and pressed. Be sure to read the
label for information on how to handle the caviar you purchase. Although a
spoonful of caviar supplies the adult daily requirement of vitamin B-12, it's
also high in cholesterol and salt.
The harvest and sale of black caviar have been banned in Russia since August 1,
2007. The ban extends for 10 years, but scientific research and the artificial
breeding of black caviar fish are exempted.
Given its high price in the West, caviar is associated with
luxury and wealth. In Russia and other Eastern European cultures, though still
expensive, caviar is commonly served at holiday feasts, weddings, and other