If there are two symbols that we all associate with luxury and wealth, they are champagne and caviar. What many people don't know, is that one ounce of those succulent, salty fish eggs can cost more than one whole bottle of bubbly. Though it is thought that caviar consumption began as early as 1240, it did not become the popular delicacy we think of today until the 1800's when France began importing it from Russia. The actual word, "caviar" comes from the Persian word egg. Persians were among the first to harvest caviar, mainly for what they believed were medicinal qualities.
The many varieties of caviar available today can boggle the mind. The four main varieties are Sterlet, Osetra, Sevruga and Beluga. One the most sought after and popular types of caviar, Beluga caviar is now protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This law generally prohibits the import/export and interstate sale of listed species and products made from them. The United States banned the importation of Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea basin as of September 30, 2005, and from the Black Sea basin as of October 28, 2005. Many caviar aficionados will suggest the Osetra as a good substitute for Beluga.
Indeed, there is a lot more to it than the little orange dots we see on top of our favorite Sushi rolls. Most of the caviar we consume today is referred to as Caviar Malossol. This is caviar that is preserved with a little bit of salt. Malossol literally translates into "little salt" in Russian. Salt must be used to preserve the delicate and highly perishable eggs and to add flavor. Without the salt, caviar would be almost tasteless. Many believe the Malossol is much higher quality then either the "Pasteurized Caviar," which is caviar that involves partially cooking the eggs, and "Pressed Caviar," which combines different lower grades or damaged roe.
True caviar comes from the Sturgeon fish which can be found in the Black and Caspian Seas. The price of caviar can change from day to day, depending on availability. This list reflects the most expensive caviar available today. Prices below are based on the cost of one ounce of caviar. To put it in perspective, once ounce of caviar is roughly four teaspoons, or just slightly more than one heaping tablespoon. These are some expensive bites! One very important thing to remember, high quality caviar is not cheap. If you see these tasty eggs being offered at a greatly discounted price, it's probably safer to steer clear.
10 Sterlet Caviar: $68.50
The Sterlet is a common species of the Sturgeon and one of the smallest in size. Sterlet caviar is of a smaller grain size with a gun metal gray color, and a grainy intense flavor, making it a perfect accompaniment to a strong vodka. It is native to both the Black and Caspian Sea. Due to overfishing, Sterlet caviar is becoming vulnerable in it's native habitats and much of the Sterlet caviar available today are from aqua farms.
9 Russian Osetra Karat Caviar: $82.50
This caviar comes from eggs captured at their absolute peak of size, when the sturgeon is the most mature. Results are a caviar with with a firm grain and nutty flavor, both succulent and juicy. This is a beautiful caviar with colors ranging from a deep golden olive to a light brown. The rarest and most sought after of this variety are the eggs that are amber to golden yellow in color.
8 Organic Caviar: $97.00
Organic caviar is among the newest variety of farmed caviar. Typically, the organic caviar comes from white sturgeon that are raised in an eco-friendly environment, which means less stress on the fish. They are not treated with any type of hormones and are allowed to grow naturally. It can take eleven years for a fish to reach maturity. What makes a caviar organic is the lack of the addition of Borax, a mineral that is used along with salt to add shelf life and preserve quality. The only mineral used in organic caviar is natural sea salt. This acts as a natural preservative and adds that exquisite flavor the caviar connoisseur craves.
7 Fresh Farmed Osetra Amur Caviar: $107.00
This caviar is farmed as opposed to being caught wild, making this a sustainable variety, meaning that our natural resources are not being depleted. These fish are raised on aqua farms that conform with regulations concerning animal welfare. This particular type of Osetra comes from the borders of Russia and China and is considered one of the finest of the farmed varieties. The farmed fresh Osetra Amur caviar has large pearls ranging in color from gray to golden brown and a very smooth finish.
6 Kaluga Caviar: $115.00
The Kaluga caviar is from the Huso Dauricus Sturgeon also known as the River Beluga. Like the Beluga, these sturgeon are very large in size, sometimes weighing in at over 2,000 pounds. These fish can be found in the rivers bordering Russia and China. This caviar has a very mild and buttery flavor. The pearls are dark gray in color and firm and glossy. It is said that while this caviar has some of largest grains it may have the mildest taste.
5 Sevruga Caviar: $150.00
This caviar is harvested from the Sevruga sturgeon, which is native to the Caspian Sea. Though it can grow to over 150 pounds in weight and over seven feet in length it is one of the smaller caviar producing sturgeons, meaning the size of the eggs are generally smaller than other varieties. This sturgeon also reproduces quickly making this caviar the most commonly found of the sturgeon caviars. Though smaller than other caviar producing fish, what it lacks in size it makes up for in flavor. It is saltier and richer than the other varieties, thus earning it the name of the "Strong Sturgeon."
4 Iranian Osetra Caviar: $177.00
Osetra Caviar comes from the Osetra sturgeon fish and is found mainly in the Caspian Sea and then harvested in Iran or Russia. It can look and taste different each time you try it due to the many different types of varieties of this particular fish. The Iranian Osetra currently available has a very nutty flavor with a minimum of saltiness. It comes directly from the Caspian Sea and the roe is very large with a light brown to mid-toned gray color.
3 Osetra Imperial Golden Caviar: $190.0o
Many consider the Osetra Imperial Golden caviar to be the tastiest of all the Sturgeon caviar and is definitely among the rarest. This is the caviar known as the "Caviar of Middle Eastern Royalty." The flavor of Osetra Imperial Golden has been described as sweet, nutty and crisp. The grains are medium in size and the color varies in beautiful shades of amber yellow. The lighter eggs are more sought after as they are generally the most mature and have the most flavor. These succulent eggs are ones highly sought after.
2 Russian Volga Reserve Osetra Caviar: $215.00
A highly recommended substitute for Beluga, this variety of caviar is exceedingly limited. Named for the most famous river leading into the Caspian Sea and for this sturgeon's natural habitat, the Reserve features a savory balance of light brininess and creaminess. What makes it a rare variety, is that this caviar comes from the Osetra sturgeon that is 35 years old or older. Most caviar comes from sturgeon aged 10 to 20 years, when they are much more fertile and larger in number. Due to their age and larger size, these sturgeon produce roe that is both smoother and more flavorful. This one may be hard to find as there are only limited quantities available at any one given time.
1 Tsar Nicoulai Golden Reserve Caviar: $300.00
An intriguing concept, Tsar Nicoulai Caviar are truly pioneers of sustainable American caviar. The caviar from their farm raised American white sturgeon have been used by well known chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and James Beard. The vision of this company lies in being able to craft a high quality caviar while preserving natural resources. The philosophy of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar is "An equal consideration for life and land." This golden caviar has a very large bead and is one of their rarest varieties. It has a nutty pop and a clean finish.