Osetra? Sevruga? Malossol? Wow, we were confused when we started carrying caviar. Just in case you are too…here is what we have learned about sturgeon caviar varieties:
Sturgeon Caviar Varieties:
The queen of caviars, sturgeon caviar is available either farmed or wild, and from four main varieties of sturgeon: Beluga, Sevruga, Hackleback, and Osetra. Despite its reputation for being exclusive and expensive, there are actually a wide variety of options (at different price levels) available.
|1. Beluga Caviar – Though beluga caviar is usually assumed to be the best because it is the most expensive, many caviar aficionados consider the Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga to be roughly equal in quality…just different in their characteristics. The main reason why beluga caviar is so expensive is that beluga sturgeon are becoming increasingly rare (it takes 25 years for a female beluga to mature to egg-laying age…and even then they don’t spawn every year). So rare that they are now on the endangered species list.|
|2. Sevruga Caviar – The smallest and most abundant (relatively speaking) of the wild caviar sturgeons, sevruga produce small black eggs with the most potent sturgeon caviar flavor…smooth and buttery. Paddlefish Caviar is considered to be an affordable non-sturgeon substitute for sevruga eggs.|
|3. Osetra Caviar (aka Oscietre Caviar) – the flavor, color, and size of osetra sturgeon eggs can vary wildly depending on how the fish was raised, what it ate, and where it came from. Here are several varieties worth noting:|
|a. Wild Osetra Caviar is considered the gold standard, with medium-sized brown eggs that possess a crisp, nutty & sweet flavor. However, many farmed varieties are available:|
|b. Russian Osetra Karat Caviar – Farm raised in Israel, this caviar is called Russian because the sturgeon in this Israeli farm are Russian (imported from Caspian sea at a young age). Care is taken to keep conditions & diet in the farm as close to wild as possible, producing a more affordable medium-sized caviar that is close to wild quality. Available in either amber (rich & nutty) or gold (rich, nutty with hints of salt & cream).|
|c. Italian Osetra Baerii Caviar – Farm-raised in Italy, this large, golden caviar (harvested from siberian sturgeon) has a crisp sweet & nutty flavor. It is sometimes favorably compared to wild beluga caviar.|
|d. California White Sturgeon Osetra Caviar – Though it’s called “osetra caviar” by the caviar industry, this caviar is actually harvested from an American sturgeon breed farmed in the US. It is the most affordable of the “Osetra” varieties and is fast becoming a favorite for its smooth yet robust buttery-nutty flavor.|
|4. Hackleback Caviar (aka American Sturgeon Caviar, Shovelnose Caviar) – is American wild caviar harvested from the hackleback sturgeon. Hackleback caviar has firm, black eggs and an intensely nutty flavor. It is the most affordable variety of sturgeon caviar available.|
Important Sturgeon Caviar Vocabulary:
Caspian Caviar is wild caviar (Beluga, Osetra, or Sevruga) from the Caspian Sea, either from the Russian side or the Iranian side. It is considered the best caviar. Not only do the two sides of the sea produce different tasting and looking caviar (Russian is dark while the Iranian caviar tends to be golden), but the two countries practice slightly different production techniques. Russian Caspian caviar tends to contain more salt than the Iranian varieties.
Malossol Caviar is style of caviar (from any fish) that has been more lightly salted than is common (2.8-3 percent instead of 3.5-4 percent), allowing the flavor of the fish eggs to be more prounounced. Traditionally, only the highest grade of roe is used for Malossol caviar. Malossol-style caviar is a connoisseur favorite, so much so in fact that the word “Malossol” is sometimes used to refer to any very high quality caviar.
Pasteurized Caviar has been lightly cooked to sterilize it, and is shelf stable for up to a year. Pasteurized sturgeon caviar should taste the same, but will have firmer eggs than fresh caviar. While we only sell fresh sturgeon caviar at this time, we do offer pasteurized lumpfish caviar.
Pressed Caviar can be preserved for a long time, and thus was the form in which caviar was widely consumed until the 20th century. Due to the introduction of better refrigeration and transport methods, it has become rather rare today, and is usually only made from damaged or over/under-ripe eggs. It has a very strong salty-fishy taste.
Sterlet Caviar was harvested from Sterlet sturgeon, now the absolute rarest of the Russian/European sturgeon varieties (even more than Beluga). Because they’re almost extinct and highly protected (with importance as a cross-breeding stock), their eggs are not available for sale.