Difference between caviar and roe

While the original Persian word khavyar simply means "egg," not every egg can be described as caviar. Some producers tend to apply this prestigious label to any type of roe from capelin to salmon and everything in between. It often confuses buyers and infuriates caviar purists. Is there a difference and does it matter?

First Came the Egg

Let's start with the basics. Ripe, unfertilized eggs of marine animals, including fish, shellfish and squid, are called roe. It can be eaten raw, processed and preserved or used as a cooking ingredient. Sometimes, the term soft roe is used to describe milt, which is harvested from male species.

The label "fish roe" is applied to raw or processed roe of fish that have fins.

Caviar is processed salted roe that comes from the sturgeon species (the Acipenseridae family).

The Original Definition

Historically, only roe harvested from wild-caught Sevruga, Beluga and Osietra species inhabiting the Black and the Caspian seas was called caviar. It is the definition that is accepted by purists. You can use this titbit in a conversation if you want to appear sophisticated.

The Practical Definition

The main difference between caviar and roe is the way they are processed before being sold. Caviar has to undergo specific treatment which includes salting, and sometimes pressing and pasteurizing. Malossol is the traditional treatment that contains 3 to 5% of salt and preserves the taste and quality of caviar.

On the other hand, regular roe can contain all kinds of preservatives, additives and seasoning, or none at all.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, true caviar is harvested from female sturgeon or its closest relative, paddlefish, which can be wild-caught or grown on a fish farm. Some of the most popular varieties include Beluga, Osietra, Amur sturgeon and Kaluga. Species can be pure-bred or hybridized.

Caviar can have black, silver-grey or golden hue. The pearls range in brightness and size depending on the grade of the product.

Depending on the type of sturgeon it comes from, the delicacy can have buttery, nutty or briny flavour.

True caviar is more expensive than similar products. It takes at least eight years for a female sturgeon to mature and produce eggs. High-grade eggs come from older species.

The American Definition

North American producers are more lax when it comes to labelling standards. The FDA allows using the word caviar when describing trout, bowfin, salmon, or even carp roe. However, the packaging must include the name of the fish. Colloquially, such products are known as red caviar. In the UK, they are classified as "caviar substitutes."

What Can't Be Called Caviar

Cheaper synthetic substitutes that are made from vegetables, fruits or mushrooms, gelatin and fish oil are not fish roe. Sometimes people refer to such products as faux or artificial caviar.

Fresh sturgeon eggs that have not been processed are technically not caviar. These "green eggs" are served in some high-end restaurants alongside the salted delicacy.

Does It Matter?

"Caviar vs roe" is probably one of those debates that will never end. These days, the prestigious label is applied loosely by buyers and manufacturers to describe different kinds of products. It is fine as long as the labelling and packaging doesn't mislead the buyer on purpose or omit important details.

Explore Lemberg UK online store to discover more differences between caviar and fish roe. Whether you prefer a strict definition or a more loose one, you are going to enjoy the amazing taste and quality of our premium products.


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