If you’ve ever heard of caviar, you might know that it can come in many colors.
The term caviar has become a general term for all salted fish eggs. This is true and you can look at the situation from that angle. However, strictly speaking, caviar is salted fish eggs derived from the sturgeon.
Having that in mind one can say that true caviar is derived from the sturgeon only, and that’s what black caviar is all about. You see, it doesn’t reflect the real color of the roe (fish eggs) but rather its origin point. Sturgeon caviar comes mostly in blackish colors, but can also be in gray, and then yellowish gray (if you can imagine that), all the way to golden.
If you were wondering which caviar is black, and by that you mean the color black, then the answer may vary. On the other hand, if you want to know which caviar is labeled as black, but in fact it can also be, let’s say golden, then the answer is simple – only the caviar derived from the sturgeon.
Let’s explore the sturgeon for a second.
There are 26 known species of the Acipenseridae family, more commonly known as the Sturgeon family. Each type of fish produces roe that is different. Different taste, color, texture, firmness and quality.
Those 26 species can be found all around the world, but they are most known for their place in Eurasia – the Caspian and Black Sea basin. They are anadromous fish, meaning they live in the sea where they reach maturity and then migrate up the rivers to spawn.
The wild fish native to the region of the Caspian Sea made Russia and Iran famous for their black caviar. It was a delicacy among tsars, sheiks, and emperors. It got spread all around the world in the 19thand 20thcentury.
On the other side of the globe in America wild sturgeon was also abundant. At one point it was served in bars as a free snack so that the salt can play its card and prone the customers to drink more. Henry Schacht established the caviar business in the US in 1873.
The situation got worse and worse because overfishing eventually depleted the reserves of wild sturgeon and that is the sole reasons we see high prices for caviar today.
The situation was far more alarming for Caspian caviar; it was so famous and highly sought, that it pushed wild Caspian sturgeon on the verge of extinction. This is the reason we see an upward trend in aqua farming facilities all around the world, where sturgeon and its hybrids are raised for high-quality caviar.
Excuse me for the long introduction to the brief history of the sturgeon. Here are some most famous species and their characteristics – with color in the first place.
Let’s forget for a moment that we are talking about the world’s most expensive caviar.
Let us also remember that fewer than 100 specimens of this elegant fish are caught every year.
Beluga is the biggest of all Sturgeons, it’s also the one of the rarest, putting a “modest” price on its 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
Just a quick detour.
By grading I mean classification. For example, a system mostly used in Russia defines the most prestigious caviar as golden. Golden tsar caviar is obtained from sturgeons more than 60 years old.
The classification in Europe is a little bit different and uses the maturity of the sturgeon. There is the "king black" that is no less than 20 years old, the middle class belongs to the fish aged 40 years and more, and in the end we have over 85 years old "Imperial" caviar with golden shades.
The rarest and most sought out by the aristocracy is the "Golden Caviar". It belongs to the albino beluga, extremely rare species, almost legendary.
It is not certain whether the color affects the taste but what is true is that the rarest of sturgeon are the lightest in color.
In the end, it is often not the color that determines the quality, but the age of the sturgeon and the way its roe was processed. By looking at how it can be processed we have fresh-grained, pressed and yastik sturgeon.
Back to beluga.
Due to overfishing, pollution and especially the damming of the Volga River, the beluga wild population is critically endangered and only farm-raised beluga can be bought.
More or less all wild Caspian sturgeon are going through a crises and there is currently a ban on their fishing. OSETRA
Osetra is the caviar with many names. It is common to find it under Ossetra or Oscietra or Asetra. It is a transcription of the Russian word осётр which translates into English as sturgeon.
The fish is also native to the Caspian basin but can be found elsewhere, native to Eurasia. Its cousin the Siberian sturgeon lives on the territories of China, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Osetra roe is medium-sized and the color varies between gray to brown. There is also a special – rare type of coloring and that is golden brown, or even completely golden. This is the Golden Osetra or Golden Imperial caviar.
Sevruga is the smallest out of the three famous Caspian Sturgeons.
The beads are quite small, ranging from 2 mm to 2.5 mm in diameter.
The color ranges from medium gray to steel gray.
It is native to the Black, Azov, Caspian and Aegean Sea basins. The Russian/Iranian version was traditionally packed in red tins.
Sterlet caviar is light to dark gray.
The small grains have an intense flavor.
The starlet is often confused with Sevruga, but it is even smaller. Overfishing has brought the starlet on the verge of extinction. Today there is an upward trend in farm-raised American Sterlet which comes close in taste to Caspian Sevruga.
There are also other types of caviar that come from different species of Sturgeon and there are also hybrids.
Kaluga – very close in flavor to Beluga, the color can vary in appearance from golden to dark.
Hackleback Caviar - American Hackleback has been exported to Europe and Asia for hundreds of years. It comes from California, Its color varies from dark gray to black and the taste is very smooth and very pleasant.
Lake Sturgeon or rock sturgeon is solely a freshwater fish, found in North America, and is one of the three sturgeons that live exclusively in freshwater, alongside Shovel Nosed Sturgeon and Pallid Sturgeon.
White Sturgeon or Pacific sturgeon lives along the west coast of North America from the Aleutian Islands to Central California. It is the largest freshwater fish in North America. Again, the roe ranges from light gray to black.
If you would like to broaden your knowledge by also knowing the different tastes among many types of black caviar, there is no better way than to try it. I can only suggest that if you want you first experience to be like from a fairy tale you can start from Bond Caviar. Their black caviar varieties include the famous Beluga, Siberian and Russian Osetra and White Sturgeon.