“Close your eyes. That is important; you don’t want your eyes distracting you.”
I was holding a spoon above the freshly opened tin of the famous Beluga caviar. I did try caviar before and I insisted that I would take this delicacy without the blini, or the cream, or the butter.
Just some pure caviar under the tongue.
On the first ball the taste was similar to the other types I tried, but then it happened. The large and soft roe popped under the roof of my mouth releasing an intense but also bland taste.
Heavenly buttery were the words that crossed my mind.
It was the perfect combination of freshness and saltiness. A true delicacy.
I asked - tell me more about this fish.
Beluga belongs to the Sturgeon family; the precise Latin name would be Huso Huso. It is also known as the Great Sturgeon.
The name Beluga actually comes from the Russian word for the color white, as this is the whitest of all the sturgeon. There are some amazing facts about Beluga.
First, it is the biggest of all sturgeon, and can weigh up to 2000 pounds and be up to 20 feet in length. The largest documented beluga was sighted and caught in 1827 in the Volga River and that sample weighed 1.5 tons.
Second, females can carry from 230,000 to 1 million eggs depending on their size. They reach maturity only after 19 or 22 years.
Third, they can live well over 100 years and have been around, along with other Sturgeons, for nearly 200-300 million years.
No wonder every Caspian Sea fisherman dreams of catching the legendary Beluga Sturgeon.
They are anadromous fish, spending part of their lives in saltwater and returning to rivers to spawn. Their natural habitat extends to the Black, Caspian, Azov and Adriatic Seas. Female beluga can produce as much as 12% of her body weight in caviar.
The roe is the biggest among all sorts of caviar; it is 3mm to 4mm in diameter. Simply, the eggs are pea-sized. There are three ranges of color in which the caviar is graded:
“000” – the lightest, almost silver-like color;
“00” – darker tones, aiming towards darker grey;
“0” – black as the night.
The roe is soft. It is also glossy and clear. The eggs have a really dark spot called the “eye”. This is the egg itself, and the surrounding orb is the egg sack.
These pearls should be allowed to pop in the mouth. No force is required; they should be left to melt in there. You can also press them with your tongue against the roof of the mouth.
The taste is bland, smooth, and there is this buttery aroma that can’t be further described with words.
Warning! Since the taste is bland, your taste buds need a little practice to truly apprize beluga caviar in its full glory.
THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION
Due to several factors such as overfishing, damming of the Volga River, and growing demand for its caviar, the Beluga Sturgeon has been driven to the verge of extinction. The fish needs at least 20 years to reach its maturity so replenishing the natural supply is slow and takes some time.
Due to the crashing numbers of wild sturgeon in the Caspian basin, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), suspended all trade made with the traditional caviar-producing regions of the Caspian and Black Seas. This took place in 2004, and negotiations to establish reasonable quotas for export followed.
There were several temporary lifts of the ban, but it was eventually dropped for good. What took the biggest hit was the Beluga export as US officially banned the export and import of Caspian Beluga caviar in 2005.
Due to above mentioned reasons, the farm-raised beluga has seen the light of day.
Raised in pristine conditions all around the world, the almost disappeared sturgeons are coming back.
There are identical copies of wild Sturgeon, raised in aquaculture farms, with identical taste as the wild Beluga. We will see rising numbers in upcoming years.
I have crossed paths with different caviars, their taste was sometimes good, sometimes less good. Take my advice and try Italian beluga gathered by Bond Caviar. It’s the most perfect blend I tried, and you would certainly not make a mistake by doing so.
There is a hybrid, a very popular one because it cuts down on the time needed to reach maturity. By combing Beluga (Huso Huso) and Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser Baerii) we get a cross-over known as Bester.
Although you can’t find wild beluga anymore, there are some nice alternatives. There are a lot of caviar types that can closely mimic the exquisite taste of Beluga Caviar. Some connoisseurs have even developed a preference for other caviar varieties.
Kaluga – beside the color, there is no greater distinction between Beluga and Kaluga Caviar (even the words rhyme). The color can vary in appearance from golden to medium or dark brown. The clear glossy finish of the large eggs and the delicate, buttery flavor of Kaluga Caviar are the reasons you would want to try it.
Osetra – Although this is a completely different variety, the Osetra is the second most sought out sturgeon. Also on the list of endangered species, there are dozens of farmed raised Osetra species. This fish can weigh up to 400 ponds and live more than 50 years. The taste is much nuttier and less bland than in Beluga.
Hackleback Caviar – This may seem as a little bit of an odd choice, but American Hackleback has been exported to Europe and Asia for hundreds of years. It has a sweet and buttery flavor.
These common alternatives to famous Beluga were raised in pristine conditions.
Now that we’ve collected as much info on Beluga as we could, I think it is time to come to the conclusion.
You see, I am not going to lie to you, Beluga tastes amazing. In fact that is probably one of the tastiest caviars I have ever tried. It has the perfect balance of freshness and saltiness, and that buttery consistency – it just leaves you speechless. And given the fact that we are seeing more and more farm-raised beluga, it can be well enough in your reach. But, what is the price?
It’s not the taste that brought beluga to be the most expensive caviar in the world, but rather the scarcity. There’s an economic idea that says "rarity increases the value of the item." I would not measure the value of something judging only by the price.
The most expensive beluga caviar is “Almas” and that thing can be sold for $34,500 for 2lbs or 1kg.
Almas is produced from the eggs of the rare albino beluga sturgeon from the southern Caspian Sea in Iran.
Wild caviar is probably only in reach of the wealthier part of the world and even if you had money to burn why would you push this fish even more to its extinction. I wouldn’t want to be the one responsible for crossing off an entire species with a single caviar spoon.
The price for an American or Italian farm-raised can be anywhere from $60 for 1oz and from there the numbers start climbing.
Final conclusion: yes, it’s good, but the best caviar is the one that suits you best.