How Caviar Is Processed
Being one of the truly most exclusive hors d'oeuvres worldwide, caviar is extremely difficult to harvest and process, which partly explains its very high retail price. In this short article, we will explain what caviar is made of and describe the production process from A to Z. We will also mention different kinds of caviar and highlight its benefits for our health.
What Caviar Is
Strictly speaking, the term refers to the fertilized eggs of a female sturgeon (the so-called black caviar), both sea and freshwater, although it is usually applied to the roe of other species of unscaled fish too (the so-called red caviar). The table below shows the most common species used for the purpose worldwide:
Ossetra (Russian and American)
Partly as a result of the high cost of production and out of concern for the fish population, genuine caviar is not that easy to find, and the vast majority of the relevant products on the global market are, in fact, imitation caviar made of some kind of white fish. In addition, there are plenty of substitutes produced specifically for:
- Vegetarians, who can enjoy imitation caviar made from seaweed
- Jewish people, to adapt this hors d'oeuvre to the Kosher restrictions by extracting caviar from various species of scaled fish
Nevertheless, none of the above-mentioned alternatives can ever compare in taste to the genuine product, and they are all significantly inferior to real caviar in terms of the organic components they contain. Besides being a delicious snack, fish eggs are also very good for our health, especially for our skin, as they contain numerous invaluable vitamins and other organic compounds, such as:
Vitamins D, B6 and B12
How Caviar Is Harvested
Basically, there are two ways to harvest the roe, namely catching the fish when its eggs are ripe or breeding it in artificial ponds. Of course, the second method is more practical and economical, and most producers these days have started collecting caviar in their fish farms. However, the environmental conditions must be as close to the natural habitat of the species as possible.
Apart from that, it is extremely important that the fish experience very little or no stress all the way from breeding to the actual extraction of the roe, as the stress hormone has an adverse effect on the texture and taste of the final product. Which is why professionals even recommend sedating the fish before killing it or performing a surgical operation.
In most cases, fish farmers use either ultrasound of high frequency or biopsy technologies to assess the quality and readiness of the roe. The size of the grains, for example, is a decisive factor that will affect the market value of the caviar. The most expensive eggs are at least 3mm in diameter.
However, it is the timing of harvesting that is of the most crucial significance for the quality and value of the extracted eggs. For best effect, the extraction must be performed precisely three days before the fish is ready to spawn. Before that, the eggs will be fat and sticky; past this deadline, caviar will be a mush.
To Kill or Not to Kill
Due to the latest technological advances, it is possible nowadays to extract the roe without killing the fish, although most farmers stick to the traditional method nonetheless. This is a major concern for consumers who want to taste fish products yet object to cruel treatment of animals in general. At present, the extraction of sturgeons is tightly regulated by CITES. This fish is recognized as being endangered.
The two most widespread of the so-called humane harvesting techniques are the cesarean section and vivace extraction. Humane though these methods may be, they are rarely practiced for the following reasons:
- These extraction techniques are considerably more expensive and difficult to apply.
- They affect the ultimate flavor and texture of the roe, often making it too chewy and bitter.
- The caviar thus harvested tends to lose most of its nutritional value.
How Caviar Is Made
There are many different technologies for extracting caviar, depending on a variety of factors. And since a thorough discussion of this topic falls outside the scope of our article, we will only describe the most common method currently practiced.
- Once the roe has been taken out of the fish, the sac is rubbed against a special grid to separate the eggs and then rinsed with cool water to remove all impurities.
- Next, they use tweezers to remove the grains of inferior colour and quality.
- The mesh is then salted, which is one of the most intricate steps in the production process, and the one that requires a considerable amount of professional knowledge and experience, as it affects the flavour and texture of the final product. Ideally, the saline content of caviar should not exceed 3%.
- Finally, the eggs are left to age for three months at the temperature of 3 °C.
Most seafood lovers agree that caviar should be stored in the fridge and that black caviar, in particular, tastes better when it is slightly chilled. And you should keep in mind that its shelf life outside the refrigerator is about ten days.
Moreover, to preserve its taste and nutritional value, never freeze caviar, and avoid contact with metals too. Instead, scoop it up with a spoon made of mother-of-pearl, and if you would like to eat it chilled, serve it on a bed of ice.