What Is Caviar?

Caviar is the name for the collection of eggs that grow in sturgeon fish. Rare, expensive, and cherished as a delicacy, caviar’s untouchable reputation is revered in modern haute cuisine restaurants. But what about mere fish eggs equates to such novelty? Besides sturgeon’s rarity, it all comes down to caviar’s grading system, with consideration of each type of caviar, its size, and its flavor.

Below, we’ll help you identify the different types of caviar available so you can build a well-respected menu.

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Types of Caviar

tin of black sturgeon caviar with blinis and a mother of pearl spoon

There are six main types of caviar, each with their own color, flavor, and sometimes even texture and size. Below we’ll explain the differences between these types of caviar and their average prices:

1. Beluga Caviar

Beluga caviar is the rarest and most sought-after type of caviar. Beluga caviar comes from the Beluga sturgeon which swims in the unpolluted waters of the Caspian sea, allowing this caviar to maintain its truest taste.

Because of its quality, Beluga sturgeon has been endangered by overfishing, resulting in an import ban on Beluga caviar to the United States, only making it more revered. However, fish farmers have found a way around this to create a more sustainable method of harvesting Beluga caviar. The Beluga Hybrid caviar combines the Beluga and Siberian sturgeon, which take 18 years to reach full maturity.

  • Beluga Caviar Taste: Buttery, rich, creamy, mild, notes of hazelnuts
  • Beluga Caviar Color: Light gray, pearlescent
  • Beluga Caviar Price: $200-$300 per ounce
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2. Ossetra Caviar

Ossetra caviar is known as the most popular type of caviar in the world. Out of all of the high-end caviars, it is one of the most affordable options, making it commonplace on restaurant menus. Because of their low reproductive rate and exploitation of overfishing, Ossetra sturgeon are an endangered species, making their caviar only more sought-after.

  • Ossetra Caviar Taste: Buttery, nutty, briny, bright, hints of citrus
  • Ossetra Caviar Color: Dark brown, gray, gold, or black, depending on the variety
  • Ossetra Caviar Price: $50-$175 per ounce depending on variety
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3. Sevruga Caviar

Sevruga caviar is another type of European caviar that stands in comparison with the Beluga and Ossetra giants. These three types of caviar put caviar on the map as the epitome of opulence and luxury in the food realm. Although the smallest in size, it is packed full of the flavor of its natural merroir from the Caspian, Black, and Aegean Seas.

  • Sevruga Caviar Taste: Full-bodied, briny, nutty, clean, crisp
  • Sevruga Caviar Color: Steel gray and pearlescent to dark charcoal gray
  • Sevruga Caviar Price: $50-$120 per ounce
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4. Hackleback Caviar

Hackleback caviar is a type of American caviar that is harvested from the southern rivers of the United States. Hackleback caviar is a great alternative to European-imported caviar as it’s lower in price, wild-caught and not overfished, and bears a striking resemblance to the prized Sevruga caviar.

  • Hackleback Caviar Taste: Intense, deep, sweet, nutty
  • Hackleback Caviar Color: Jet black and shimmery
  • Hackleback Caviar Price: $35-$45 per ounce
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5. Kaluga Caviar

kaluga caviar

Kaluga caviar comes from various river basins and seas around Asia and is a sustainable caviar option compared to overfished European sturgeons. Sometimes referred to as "River Beluga," this caviar is from a cousin of the famed Beluga sturgeon. Because of its relation, Kaluga caviar so closely resembles the taste of the prized Beluga caviar that Kaluga caviar has become its top competitor in the US.

  • Kaluga Caviar Taste: Earthy, buttery, salty
  • Kaluga Caviar Color: Light to dark brown or golden hue
  • Kaluga Caviar Price: $65-$85 per ounce
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6. Sterlet Caviar

Sterlet caviar is another type of caviar that grows in Europe, more specifically in the Caspian, Black, Aegean, and Azov seas, as well as the rivers of Siberia. Sterlet caviar closely resembles Sevruga caviar in taste, but is even smaller in size. Just like Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga sturgeons, Sterlet sturgeons are endangered due to overfishing and therefore come with a higher price point.

  • Sterlet Caviar Taste: Mild, nutty, buttery
  • Sterlet Caviar Color: Light to dark gray with shiny silver undertones
  • Sterlet Caviar Price: $50-$100 per ounce
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What Is Roe?

roe caviar

Roe is unfertilized fish egg masses from certain marine animals. Different types of roe are usually harvested from salmon, trout, paddlefish, bowfin, and other fish, but can also be harvested from sea urchin, shrimp, scallops, squids, and other types of marine life. You can use roe in place of caviar, but it is also known to be great on various types of sushi.

Types of Roe

Below are the types of fish roe you can expect to find for sale:

1. Salmon Roe

Salmon roe, also known as Ikura caviar in high-end Japanese restaurants, are the eggs found in a salmon fish. The nutrient-rich oceans where salmon grow reflect in the healthy, enormous size of their eggs, resulting in salmon roe’s firm outer lining and velvety interior that easily bursts under pressure.

  • Salmon Roe Taste: Clean, crisp, buttery
  • Salmon Roe Color: Brilliant orange-red
  • Salmon Roe Price: $6-$10 per ounce
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2. Herruga Roe

Herruga roe comes from Spanish herring. Although naturally golden in color, the tiny roe eggs are dyed with squid ink, resulting in a remarkable comparison to sturgeon caviar. Herruga roe is a popular choice when sturgeon caviar is desired, but without the expensive price tag!

  • Herruga Roe Taste: Mildly smokey and nutty
  • Herruga Roe Color: Naturally golden but often dyed jet black with squid ink
  • Herruga Roe Price: $6 per ounce
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3. Masago Roe

Masago roe, otherwise known as capelin roe, comes from the eggs of capelin fish. Capelin is caught mostly to be used for fish oil products, but more and more harvesters are now saving the roe to sell in the masago market.

  • Masago Roe Taste: Mildly smokey, slightly salty
  • Masago Roe Color: Naturally pale yellow or pale orange, but often dyed vibrant orange
  • Masago Roe Price: $7 per ounce

4. Paddlefish Roe

Paddlefish roe is a type of roe that is harvested from North American paddlefish. Paddlefish is a popular type of roe because it bears a very close resemblance to the prized Sevruga caviar but at an incomparable fraction of the cost.

  • Paddlefish Roe Taste: Earthy, silky, intensely rich
  • Paddlefish Roe Color: Light to dark gray
  • Paddlefish Roe Price: $16-$24 per ounce
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5. Rainbow Trout Roe

Rainbow trout roe comes from the European rainbow trout that are raised in the cool freshwater lakes of France. Their eggs are a considerable size when compared to other roe and caviar, allowing an exquisite sensory experience when piercing through their outer lining and into the velvety interior.

  • Trout Roe Taste: Mild, sweet, briny
  • Trout Roe Color: Brilliant golden-red color
  • Trout Roe Price: $10-$12 per ounce
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6. Tobiko Roe

tobiko roe caviar

Tobiko is a type of roe that is harvested from flying fish. Tobiko can be easily manipulated once harvested to offer a variety of different colors and flavors. Tobiko can be purchased dyed green with wasabi, black with squid ink, and red with beet juice.

  • Tobiko Roe Taste: Naturally lightly salty but can differ based on the type of Tobiko roe
  • Tobiko Roe Color: Naturally green but can come red, green, or black, depending on natural dye ingredients
  • Tobiko Roe Price: $15 per ounce
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7. Whitefish Roe

Whitefish roe is a type of roe that comes from American whitefish that swim in the cool waters of the Great Lakes. Whitefish allows you to add the opulence of fish eggs without breaking food costs.

  • Whitefish Roe Taste: Tangy, sweet, briny
  • Whitefish Roe Color: Golden orange or ruby red
  • Whitefish Roe Price: $3-$10 per ounce
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Roe vs Caviar

While roe and caviar are both collections of fish eggs, their difference comes from the type of marine life the eggs are harvested from. Different types of roe come from all kinds of marine life, while different types of caviar exclusively come from sturgeon fish. To also be considered caviar, the eggs have to undergo a salt curing technique, most commonly the Malossol technique.

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What Does Caviar Taste Like?

While each type of caviar has its own distinct taste, caviar overall is pleasantly clean, crisp, briny, and sea-salty. Much like clams and oysters, the merroir affects the taste of the caviar, which can impart notes of nuttiness, butteriness, sweetness, smokiness, and so many other flavors depending where they swim.

How to Eat Caviar

caviar on crackers with salmon

The best way to eat caviar is to take your time with it. Only serve yourself a tablespoon (or less) of a portion size at a time. When you place the caviar in your mouth, use your tongue to gently press it onto the roof of the mouth without chewing. Treat the experience like a wine tasting and let the caviar’s flavors introduce themself to you before swallowing.

Caviar’s delicate taste and texture require specific tools for enjoying its most unadulterated simplicity. Here are the best ways to eat caviar:

  1. Mother of Pearl Spoon: A mother of pearl spoon is the ideal spoon for serving caviar as it does not alter the subtle, delicate flavors of caviar. Metal utensils produce a metallic flavor that compromises the pure, fresh taste and will instantly ruin your expensive investment. Glass, ceramic, and bone serving ware are suitable options, though mother of pearl is the most traditional and, not to mention, opulent and luxurious-looking.
  2. Blini or Unsalted Crackers: If you’re serving caviar among other accompaniments as an appetizer or table spread, the best way to eat caviar with other ingredients is served on a simple blini, unsalted cracker, or toast-point. When presented on these vessels, there are usually also lemon wedges, creme fraiche, chopped herbs, and minced onion served alongside.
  3. On the Hand: Caviar experts and purists insist on this method for detecting caviar's truest flavor profile. Spoon the caviar in the space on the top of your hand between your forefinger and thumb. From there, carefully lift your hand up to your lips and tip the caviar into your mouth.

How to Serve Caviar

When serving caviar, it is imperative to take into consideration how many guests will be enjoying the experience. You want to serve a generous amount without creating excess waste. A good rule of thumb is each guest should be allotted around 15 grams of caviar.

Take a look at our caviar serving chart for helpful details when planning the menu:

infographic that shows how much caviar is needed to feed different numbers of people
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How to Store Caviar

Opened tins of caviar can be stored for up to three days in the coldest part of a refrigerator. Unopened containers can be stored in the refrigerator for four to six weeks. Caviar is extremely perishable, delicate, and expensive, so it’s imperative to only buy the amount of caviar you predict will be consumed.

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How Much is Caviar?

Caviar ranges greatly in price based on the various types of caviar available. For just one ounce of caviar, it can cost anywhere between $35 to $300. If this is out of your price range, consider buying roe instead. Herruga roe and paddlefish roe most closely resemble the look and/or taste of caviar while being in the $6-$24 per ounce range.

What Is the Most Expensive Caviar?

The most expensive caviar in the world is Strottarga Bianco, averaging about $113,630 per kilogram. This caviar comes from the Siberian Albino Sturgeon, producing white-gold eggs that are then dehydrated and folded with shaved flecks of edible gold. These fish are farmed in Salzburg, Austria.

What Is the Cheapest Caviar?

The cheapest caviar available is Hackleback Caviar, averaging $35-$45 per ounce.

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Discerning the different types of caviar available not only makes you a more knowledgeable gourmand, but it allows more ways to create an exciting menu experience, taking your restaurant to new heights. Remember to purchase sustainably harvested caviar for the best quality and to keep the caviar experience available to the masses for years to come!

Posted in: Product Spotlights|By Val Goodrich
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