Types of Caviar
There are many different types of caviar. Therefore, there are various ways to classify caviar. These include classifying them by fish source. True caviar comes from sturgeon, while caviar alternatives come from other types of fish like paddlefish, trout, and salmon. Further, due to the environmental issues prevalent in the world, a new type of fish row has emerged: farmed caviar. These include types of caviar that come from sturgeons or from other alternative species. Prominent in the United States, they are products that are produced through environment friendly means through fish that are grown in controlled pools and penned rivers. Further, caviar is available in different forms. These include pasteurized and pressed types of caviar. The salting of the roe is also a form of classification. Malossol caviar is that which is lightly salted (the Russian way). The salt content may be higher according to the type of roe and other factors.
Caviar Varieties by Preparation
- Malosso - Malossol is the Russian word for light salting. It refers to high-quality caviar that is subtly salted for the purposes of enhancing its flavor and preserving it. Most caviar types are salted for flavor and to retain freshness. The amount of salt that is necessary depends on the grade of the caviar, as well as its condition and intended consumer market. In general, the best caviar needs little salt, while low-quality caviar needs more salt. Accordingly, salt makes up 3.5 percent to 5 percent of a serving of the quality malossol caviar that connoisseurs prefer. Guidelines have changed throughout the years. Because of better sanitation and refrigeration practices today, the salt content of caviar has decreased. Caviar types that contain more salt than is used to prepare malossol include pressed caviar, commercial barrel-salted caviar, lumpfish caviar that is available in supermarkets and contains up to 11 percent salt.
- Salted - Even though connoisseurs prefer malossol, or lightly salted caviar that contains 3.5 percent to 5 percent salt, some people prefer other types instead. The good news for individuals who like to enjoy a little caviar now and then is that different types of salted caviar exist. When it comes to rank, after the malossol variety comes caviar that contains 8 percent salt by weight. This product is popular in the United States. After this, comes pressed caviar. Made from overly mature, immature, or broken roe, it has a spreadable paste-like texture and a strong fishy flavor. The next salted caviar type is pasteurized caviar. This product, which is available in vacuum-packed glass jars, stores longer if not opened. Fish roe and salt go hand in hand. Salt is the chief ingredient that is used in the processing of roe to caviar. No matter where you go, you will find salted caviar.
- Pressed - Known as payusnaya ikra in Russia, pressed caviar has a salty and fishy flavor. It is usually made of Sevruga or Osetra eggs that are broken, very ripe, or immature. Fifteen pounds or six kilograms of roe is used to make pressed caviar. The fish eggs are placed in hot and salted brine and shaken for a while. Then, the salted caviar is put in cheesecloth and placed in small oak barrels, which are coated with paraffin. The caviar is pressed so that the excess liquid is removed. In the past, the resulting product would be a very thick pressed caviar that would need to be sliced with a knife. Today, however, it has a softer texture. Popular among Russians, pressed caviar is used as a spread (like a jam) or in cooking. Even though it was very expensive before the use of refrigeration, today it costs roughly equal to or less than the price of Sevruga.
- Pasteurized - Pasteurized caviar is somewhat firmer than other types of caviar. It should not taste different from the others, however. If there is a big difference in taste, it may mean that the process was executed incorrectly. The process of pasteurization starts with the caviar being vacuum-packed in small glass jars about three to four hours after the fish arrives at the processing plant. According to tradition, the jars are labeled in certain colored labels: yellow for Osetra, blue for Beluga, and red for Sevruga. These jars are then placed in a water bath of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius. This high temperature sterilization rids the caviar of harmful microorganisms by semi-cooking it. The result is a product that can have a relatively long shelf life. Pasteurized caviar that remains unopened in room temperature lasts for a month. It can stay unopened in the refrigerator for several months. Once opened, however, pasteurized caviar needs to be consumed in two or three days.
True caviar is sturgeon caviar. This means that the roe comes from sturgeon-the authentic caviar fish. Accordingly, three types of sturgeon produce the best caviar that comes from the Caspian Sea and Black Sea basin. These are the Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga. These sturgeons produce the three main types of caviar, which bear their names. The best and most expensive is Beluga caviar with its soft and large eggs. Next comes Osetra caviar with medium-sized eggs. Sevruga caviar follows in rank with its smaller eggs. Together, these varieties make Russian and Iranian caviar respected throughout the world. Russia and Iran have always played a prominent role in caviar history. However, due to the overfishing and pollution in the waters of the region, the native sturgeon population of the region is under threat and some bans are in effect. This limits the production of Caspian caviar. This is the status of American sturgeon caviar, as well. There are different types of sturgeons that are native to the United States, but are under threat. White Sturgeon, for example, is now rare. Thus, newer means of caviar production have been developed to maintain the production of American black caviar and others. This is where farmed caviar and other caviar alternatives come in.
There is no greater example of farmed caviar than that which is produced in the United States. Overfishing and other environmental issues promoted the growth and success of farmed caviar, which comes from sturgeon as well as other fish species. The White Sturgeon species, for example, which is native to the waters of the United States, is very rare now. It is considered a delicacy like the Caspian Beluga and Osetra. However, because of farming, White Sturgeon caviar is produced in controlled bodies of water in California, as well as in France and other countries. This type of American caviar is not alone. Farmed caviar comes from other types of fish, as well. Fortunately, there are types of caviar that come to us from fish that are not threatened. Thus, farming is not necessary in these cases. Icelandic waters contain an abundance of smelt or capelin for instance. Capelin caviar is thus produced naturally in the wild, as is bowfin caviar, which is an alternative American caviar.
If you cannot afford to buy caviar that comes from sturgeons and if you are not concerned with having true caviar, you will be glad to know that there are several fresh caviar substitutes to choose from. These are less expensive than the authentic and true caviar that only come from sturgeon species. The alternatives include paddlefish, lumpfish, salmon, whitefish, and hackleback caviar. Roe from these varieties of fish can only be called "caviar" if the name of the fish is included in the title. Thus, paddlefish caviar, a popular variety, has glossy beads and is sometimes called American caviar. It is very popular. Hackleback caviar, with its black roe, is sweet, buttery, and nutty in flavor. Salmon caviar is a sushi chef favorite. Its medium to large roe and striking color makes a statement. Further, salmon roe caviar is known for the pop it makes when bitten. Whitefish caviar is also popular with chefs and is sometimes infused with other flavors. If you want a very affordable choice, you would be happy with lumpfish caviar. Providing a crunch with every bite, it is a pasteurized type. You can choose from red or black lumpfish caviar.
Varieties of Non-True Caviar
- American Caviar - American caviar refers to the roe from sturgeon that is native to the United States. Some people confuse it and refer to all the different caviar types from the US-from sturgeon or other kinds of fish-as American caviar. There are quite a few types of sturgeon in this category. They include Wild Atlantic Sturgeon, which is found along the Southeast Atlantic coast, Lake Sturgeon from the Midwest, and White Sturgeon of the Pacific Northwest, which is farmed in California. The roe of the Wild Atlantic caviar is softer than Caspian varieties, while the American White Sturgeon tastes similar to Osetra and is sometimes referred to as California Osetra. When it comes to American caviar, the two largest sturgeon farmers are Stolt Sea Farms (owned by the Stolt Sea Farm Group of Norway) and Tsar Nicoulai in California. Lovers of Petrossian Caviar would be happy to know that it sells a private brand called Transmontanus (Latin for white sturgeon) which is packed by Stolt.
- Paddlefish Caviar - Paddlefish caviar is available in different shades of gray and sometimes golden brown. With a rich flavor and smooth texture, it tastes like Caspian Sea caviars. The roe comes from paddlefish, which are also called spoonbills or spoonies and live in the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers of the United States. These fish are related to sturgeons, which produce the most expensive caviars. Many people believe that paddlefish roe is similar to Sevruga roe. There is a difference, however, in the price, as paddlefish caviar is less expensive. Further, in general, paddlefish caviar is earthier in flavor and softer. Because of overfishing of Caspian Sea sturgeons, American caviar including ones that come from paddlefish is gaining increasing popularity as more and more people are turning to it. It is not only considered a good alternative to Sevruga caviar, but also to Beluga, which is more expensive and has larger black grains, as well as to hackleback and bowfin caviar.
- Hackleback Caviar - Hackleback caviar comes from the Mississippi and Missouri river systems of the United States. The hackleback sturgeon, which is also called the Shovelnose, is native to the region. The roe of this fish is soft and shiny black or dark brown. It has a pleasant and nut-like flavor that has sweetness to it and a subtle aftertaste. This type of American caviar makes a good substitute for Sevruga and Beluga caviar, as well as for bowfin and paddlefish caviar. Compared to the authentic Caspian caviars, this variety has smaller grains, but like them, it comes in dark shades. The grains of hackleback caviar are equal in size and shape. Overall, it has an appealing look. It has had a surge in popularity due to the decline of Caspian caviars, which came about from overfishing. Even though hackleback roe is less expensive than Sevruga caviar, it is still somewhat costly.
- Bowfin Caviar - Bowfin caviar comes from the central and southern regions of the United States, where the bowfin fish live. It is also known as Chourpique or Cajun caviar in some parts of the American South. Related to the largest fish known, the Leedsycthis (which measured about 70 feet long), the ancient bowfin species are not very large at about 3 feet long and live among hackleback and paddlefish. However, unlike sturgeon eggs, bowfin caviar is oblong and not round. Further, the jet black or brown eggs contain red pigments, which become more apparent if cooked. Even though this caviar variety is not as fishy as some others are, it does have its own special flavor that is earthy and somewhat tangy. The texture of bowfin caviar is chalky. It does well in various caviar recipes including blinis, soups, and sauces. This kind of American caviar retains its firmness even when mixed with hot liquids.
- Salmon Caviar - Sushi lovers are familiar with salmon caviar. Its bright reddish or golden orange eggs are popular among sushi chefs who frequently use it as a garnish. With medium to large roe (sometimes as large as pearls), salmon caviar pops when bitten. It has a rather obvious salmon flavor and is sometimes called red caviar. Its eggs are larger than those of Beluga, but its price tag is less than those of the authentic sturgeon caviar varieties from the Caspian and Black Seas. Compared to other types of caviar alternatives, however, this type is generally more expensive because it is difficult to keep the large and individual eggs whole. Most of the salmon caviar that is available in the market comes from Coho or Chinook salmon from the West. Alaska and Canada are chief producers. An interesting fact is that salmon caviar is considered a kosher food since salmon has scales.
- Whitefish Caviar - Whitefish caviar comes in a variety of colors including golden orange, red, or black. It has small roe with a crunchy texture. Its taste is light and clean. This caviar alternative sometimes comes in flavors of ginger, wasabi, or saffron. Whitefish is related to salmon, but many people call various species of fresh and salt-water fish by the name. Hailing from the Great Lakes of North America or from Canada, whitefish caviar is mild and has a crunch when bitten. It is also popular in Europe where it is called sikrom. It does well in various recipes calling for caviar, including sauces and soups. It also goes well on blini and does well as a garnish on appetizers, salads, and fish entrees. Whitefish caviar is a good substitute for sturgeon caviar, like the Beluga, Osetra, or Sevruga, which are more expensive, or salmon caviar-especially when it comes to the orange or red roe.
- Trout - Trout caviar is golden orange and pops when bitten like salmon caviar. It has a subtle and fresh flavor and works well eaten on its own or as part of an appetizer. There are many caviar recipes that would do famously well with trout caviar. It is good when infused with other flavors. Some people add a little sake to it and top it on sashimi, while others add bourbon to it and use it to garnish grilled fish. Because of its mildness and slight sweetness, it also works well in pasta dishes and salads. Its mild flavor is because trout is a freshwater fish that is found in lakes, rivers, and ponds across Asia and North America. The roe that comes from trout makes a cost-effective caviar alternative. The eggs are larger than traditional Caspian and Black Sea caviars, and therefore fewer morsels of trout caviar are needed to make a visual impact on appetizers.
- Lumpfish Caviar - In a world of high caviar prices, many people welcome lumpfish caviar, an inexpensive alternative. This variety comes from the North Atlantic waters usually near Iceland that contain the lumpfish, a round fish that provides small-grained roe that is crunchy to the bite. Lumpfish caviar is very briny and salty-it is a pasteurized caviar type. To neutralize the intensity of the flavor, it is usually used in appetizers or as garnishes. Quite a few caviar recipes would do well with it. Its eggs are dyed black, red, or gold; therefore, the color might bleed when used as garnishes on moist foods. Since the color may bleed, it is not recommended for recipes that call for cooking or baking. Regardless of this, lumpfish caviar carries a reasonable price tag and is easy to find. It adds a burst of color to recipes that call for a bit of fish roe. It is a versatile caviar variety.
- Capelin Caviar - Capelin caviar comes from the smelt fish. It is also known as masago caviar and is a staple in sashimi and sushi recipes. The eggs of this variety are small and fluorescent orange. An inexpensive caviar alternative, it is commonly used in Japanese food prep and compared to lumpfish caviar. It, too, is a pasteurized caviar type that is sometimes dyed black or red. This roe comes from a small fish called the capelin, which lives in the Northern Arctic Oceans. Over a million tons of this fish are harvested yearly. This means that capelin caviar is abundant and easily accessible. The largest consumer market for this variety is Japan, as it is commonly used in cuisine. Outside Japan, capelin caviar is still relatively new but it is gaining popularity quickly. Experts believe that it will be a staple regularly used for caviar recipes in other parts of the world.
Some of the most well known caviar brands are the Petrossian Caviar & Romanoff Caviar. These two companies are considered the providers of the most premium caviar in the World, and their products are highly sought-after and, as you might expect, expensive.