Caviar Glossary

ACIPENSERIDAE

This taxonomical family includes around 26 species of fish, including the genera Acipenser (Atlantic, Baerii, Lake, Osetra, Sevruga, Siberian, White and other sturgeon) Huso (Beluga and Keluga sturgeon), Scaphirhynchus (Alabama, Pallid and Shovelnose [Hackleback] sturgeons, all native to North America) and Pseudoscaphirhynchus (three species in West Central Asia, including Syr-darya Shovelnose, Amu-dar Shovelnose and False Shovelnose sturgeons).

ALGAE

See flavour

ALMAS CAVIAR

The rarest and most expensive caviar in the world. The word “almas” means “diamond” in Persian. This particular caviar comes from albino sturgeons albino Osetra sturgeons that are over 70 years old. This means it is very rare to encounter and a once-in-a-lifetime treat. The older the fish, the creamier and subtle the flavor of the eggs are. A single kilo of Almas caviar is worth $44,000, more expensive than gold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records

ANADROMOUS

An anadromous fish is a saltwater fish that moves to freshwater to spawn. The Caspian sturgeon is a anadromous fish and was almost made extinct by dams of the rivers leading to the Caspian Sea, keeping the sturgeon from the spawning grounds.

AQUACULTURE

The farming of fish. Can be performed indoors or outdoors or in penned sections of rivers.

ARTIFICIAL CAVIAR

Caviar that has been grown in a farm that does not use the natural waters of the sturgeon’s native habitat.

ASETRA or GOLDEN IRANIAN ASETRA CAVIAR

Golden Iranian Asetra (Iranian Osetra) is from the Caspian Sea bordering Iran. The Iranian Asetra has a complex and sophisticated flavor that ranges in color from dark to light grey. It is the 2nd most expensive caviar after the Iranian Beluga. The name “Golden Iranian” comes from the golden hue. The caviar is very rare due to the pristine environment along the Iranian coastline, which has very clean soil and air.

BAERII CAVIAR & STURGEON

The Siberian sturgeon swims in Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and, to a smaller extent, in China. The Baerii sturgeon is on the WWF’s endangered species list due to overfishing. Baerii is sometimes misleadingly marketed as Osetra, though it is not. Baerii caviar can be harvested from 6 to 9 years of age while Osetra takes 12-15 years. The Baerii is significantly smaller than the Osetra sturgeon but reproduces much quicker.

BELIAK (HISTORICAL)

Mature female sturgeon.

BELUGA CAVIAR

The whit Beluga (Huso huso) is the largest species of sturgeon and grows up to 30 feet long and weigh up to a whopping 3.300 pounds. The Beluga eats smaller fish and roe makes up about 15% of its body weight. Beluga caviar is rare as it takes 18 to 30 years for a female to mature and start producing eggs. This scarcity and relative fragility of its eggs make it very expensive and extremely difficult to farm with non-Caspian Sea waters. It is native to the Caspian Sea. The eggs are large (3mm to 4mm)and range from pale silver to black in color.

The taste is described as buttery, soft and delicate. Traditionally, 000 grade Beluga caviar is the lightest color and 0 is the blackest, though color does not really have much of an effect on taste.

BLACK CAVIAR

The generic Soviet term for Caspian caviar, but also refers to any black roe. Nowadays, it does not connote any specific species and is a marketing term.

BLINI or BLIN

Blini are small buckwheat pancakes topped with caviar, smoked salmon and creme fraiche. Originally a Russian dish, the buckwheat is used to specifically match the flavor of Caspian caviar. It can be served any way you like; folded, rolled, or eaten like canapes.

BOWFIN ROE

Also called the swamp fish, mudfish, cypress trout, or the Cajun name “choupique”, the bowfin is a 180 million-year-old fish. Interestingly, the choupique is not related to the sturgeon at all. They diverge at the phylum level of organization, the furthest away two things can be in the animal kingdom.

CASPIAN CAVIAR

This term refers to caviar harvested from the Caspian Sea, most Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga. The Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga are all exclusively native to the Caspian Sea. Anything said otherwise is untrue.

CASPIAN SEA

The Caspian Sea is a large saltwater sea between Russia and Iran. it major river source is the river Volga and is the major source of sturgeon caviar. The deep sea extends over several hundred meters and the mineral composition of the sea promotes healthy sturgeon growth. It is the home of caviar and has been for over 4000 years.

The Caspian sea has a area of 143,244 square miles and borders Russian and Kazakhstan from the north and Iran and Azerbaijan on the east. The Caspian Sea is one of the largest seas in the world, much larger than the Great Lakes in the U.S.

CAVIAR

Caviar is mostly used to refer to fish eggs harvested from sturgeon, though the term in used for other species of eggs. Traditionally, caviar has meant eggs for the Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga sturgeons, though recent use has expanded the definition to include a number of fish eggs. In the U.S. Europe and the UK, only sturgeon roe can be called “caviar” and non-sturgeon eggs must be labeled something else (salmon roe, whitefish roe, etc). The Persians eventually transmitted spread caviar to the rest of the world. In fact, the word “caviar” comes from the Persian word for egg. Russians, however, refer to all kinds of fish eggs as ikroj.

CAVIAR EXPERT

A person highly skilled in processing caviar

CITES

CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) is an international treaty created in 1973 meant to protect wildlife from over-exploitation and to prevent international trade form endangered species. In 2001, CITES halted the caviar trade by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. It spearheaded the ban on exporting Caspian caviar by Russian states bordering the Caspian Sea. Iran, however, was the only country not banned by CITES due to having been recognized as a leader in sustainable sturgeon farming. Iran is considered by CITES to practice effective conservation and policing of its fisheries.

CREME FRAICHE

Cultured thickened cream that is similar in taste and consistency to sour cream. The term “creme fraiche” is French for “fresh cream.” It is typically sold unpasteurized in France, though U.S. laws require it be pasteurized before selling. When creme fraiche is not available, sour cream makes a suitable replacement.

CULTURED CAVIAR

A separate term for farmed caviar

FARMED CAVIAR

Another name for cultured caviar. It is important to be aware that not all caviar farms are equal. Caviar farms in Iran use natural sea waters from the Caspian Sea. Farms in Europe do not have access to the Caspian Sea and use artificial waters for sturgeon breeding.

FLAVOR

The taste of most animal products is highly influenced by the chemical character of their environment and the food they eat; i.e. grass for cattle, water for oysters, and the food fish eat. The taste of sturgeon caviar depends on the kinds of fish they eat.

Paddlefish are filter feeders that subsist primarily on algae small shrimp, and zooplankton off the water’s surface. Dirty water leads to a “muddy” or “pondy” taste in caviar and some aquaculturists believe algae in artificial ponds make sturgeon caviar taste off, this particularly a problem in European farms.

Some sturgeon are deliberately farmed in higher temperature waters to stimulate the growth of algae. The greater amount of food can reduce sturgeon reproduction times from 12 years to 8 years. Some farms attempt to “purge” the algae flavor from sturgeon by keeping them isolated in a clean water tank for a few days or weeks before selling.

FRESH CAVIAR

As opposed to pasteurized or previously frozen caviar

GOLDEN CAVIAR

Sturgeon caviar of rare natural goldish shade. It is claimed to come mostly from Persian sturgeon or sterlet. Golden caviar was saved exclusively for the Tzar or Shah.

GOLDEN OSETRA CAVIAR

Yellow roe from the rarest and most mature Osetra sturgeons native to the Caspian Sea. The golden color is highly desired by consumers for its firm golden grain and has a nutty earthy flavor. Because it is so rare, it is also very expensive. Golden Osetra caviar is very easy to confuse with Almas Caviar, though the latter is much rarer and expensive.

IKROJ

Ikroj (EEK-ruh) is the Russian word for roe and caviar of any kind.

IKURA

The Japanese variant of the Russian ikroj. It is normally used to refer to specifically salmon caviar in Japanese restaurants. Japanese chefs also use capelin roe (masago) and flying fish roe (tobiko).

IMPERIAL CAVIAR

Sometimes used to refer to golden osetra caviar. “Imperial” because the gold color has a flair of royalty.

IRANIAN CAVIAR

Caviar harvested from Iran is mostly of the Beluga, Osetra, or Sevruga variety. The majority of caviar production takes place in the south of the Caspian Sea where the water is cleanest and coolest. Both Iranian and Russian caviar are considered the finest in the world, and the current endangered status of most kinds of sturgeon make their varieties of caviar even more luxurious.

LUMPFISH ROE

Roe made from the north Atlantic Lumpfish. This roe is mostly produced in Iceland. The small eggs are hard and crunchy and range in color from black to a reddish yellow. Its color tends to bleed into other food items it is cooked with, but it is cheap and readily available.

MALOSSOL

“Malossol” is the Russian term for “little salt” and refers to the method of salting fine caviar.  Typically, the less salt required, the finer the caviar. Malossol is as little as 3.5% salt by weight and up to 10% for commercial barreled salt. The salt helps preserve freshness and enhances flavor.

ORGANIC CAVIAR

Currently, the only organic caviar farm in the world is caviar from Iran. The caviar use natural Caspian Sea waters and is 100% organic as they do not include any hormones to speed up the growth of fish. The fish are kept in pens with fresh Caspian Sea water and are given a high grade due to the controlled breeding process, clean living environment, and overall quality.

OSETRA or OSCIETRA CAVIAR

The Osetra Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) is a migratory fish that is native to the Caspian Sea. The medium-sized sturgeon weighs up to 440 pounds and measure about 6-7 feet. Females require 12-15 years to mature and produce eggs. The Osetra was enjoyed as a banquet fish in the Middle Ages, enjoyed by nobility for its nutty and light flavor. The actual word “osetra” is a transliteration of the Russian word for “sturgeon.” Other spellings include asetra, osietra, and ascietra. The word “osetra” at one time referred to all kinds of Iranian sturgeon caviar, though the term is used nowadays to refer to caviar from Acipenser baerii baerii. Osetra has a silky texture that is oilier that Beluga caviar. Wild osetra caviar is mostly harvested in Russian and Iran, though attempts have been made for it to be farmed in other places. Their eggs are golden yellow to brown in color and are about 3mm in diameter.

In Soviet Times, Osetra from the Caspian sea is packaged with a yellow lid.

PASTEURIZED CAVIAR

Caviar that is steam at a high temperature to sterilize it and remove and harmful bacteria. Pasteurization slightly cooks the caviar and changes is hardness. Caviar is typically stored at 28 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and can be stored for weeks if stored properly. Once opened, it should be eaten within 2 to 3 days.

PEARLS

Caviar eggs are called pearls

PERSIAN CAVIAR

Caviar from Iran, formerly known as Persia.

PERSIAN STURGEON

Acipenser persicus is a sturgeon native to Persia. It is found in the Caspian Sea.

POOR MAN’S CAVIAR

Another term for salmon roe, lumpfish roe. Does not actually contain caviar.

PRESSED CAVIAR

Sometimes called payusnaya or pajusnaya, eggs that are broke during the sieving process are made into pressed caviar. Pressed caviar is very different from normal caviar; it is much oilier, saltier, and more pungent. When the eggs are cleaned, they are packaged together and drained in a linen bag. Afterward, they are pressed into a paste that can be spread. It is popularly eaten on toast with hot potatoes or served as cubes on toothpicks. About 3 pounds of roe produce one pound of pressed caviar.

REAL CAVIAR

Caviar processed from fish of the sturgeon family.

ROE

Roe is the name for any kind of fish egg, also called berries, pearls, and grains

RUSSIAN CAVIAR

The name for caviar harvested in Russia for any species of sturgeon. “Russian caviar” mostly refers to Caspian caviars from the Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga sturgeons. Unfortunately, each of these fish is currently listed as an endangered species and are not allowed to be imported in other countries.

SALMON ROE

The name for salmon roe. It is bright, translucent, and has a bright red-orange color. The eggs are commonly referred to as pearls and are much juicier and saltier than other caviars. It is popular in Japanese dishes where it is known as ikura

SEVRUGA CAVIAR

The Sevruga is the smallest of the Caspian sturgeons and 3rd most expensive caviar after the Beluga and Osetra. It only grows about 7 feet and weight 175 pounds, much less than the Beluga for instance. It mostly feeds on plankton and algae. The eggs are smaller (2.5mm) and have a greenish=gray to steel gray color.

Sevruga has the strongest flavor and crunchiest texture of Caspian caviars. Recently, Sevruga caviar price has caught up to Osetra prices due to shortages in Beluga caviar.

SPHERIFICATION

A cooking technique meant to creat delicious caviar from fruits and vegetables. It was pioneered by gastronomer Ferran Adria. It is the process of taking a flavorful liquid and enclosing it in a spherical skin. Sodium alginate is first added to remove any bubbles then the liquid is added to treated water which forms the spheres. You can use this process to create caviars with many kinds of flavor profiles.

SPOONBILL STURGEON

See paddlefish sturgeon

STERLETA STURGEON

Largely extinct in the Caspian but still farmed in America, the sterlet sturgeon used to supply what is called Imperial caviar to Iran’s royal family. Historical writings frequently mention the dish present at banquets and feasts. The Sterlet is similar to the Sevruga sturgeon but smaller, only ranging about 4 feet long and weighing 55 pounds. It is rarely found in the wild nowadays.

STICKINESS

Excessive adhesion between processed eggs which results in lumps

STURGEON

Sturgeon are large migratory fish with about 26 species found worldwide. The most famous and expensive sturgeon are found in the Caspian Sea and include Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga sturgeon. It is an old fish that has lived in the oceans for over 250 million years; at the same time as the dinosaurs. Although primarily a saltwater fish, sturgeon will migrate to fresh water to lay their eggs. It is there that they are caught for harvesting. Along with tier roe, sturgeon meat is also praised for its quality.

Sturgeon belong to the family Acipenseridae, and order of primitive ray-finned fish. Within the family are two genera, Acipenser (Osetra, Sevruga, Siberian, and White sturgeon) and Huso (Beluga).

STURGEON CAVIAR

The roe of sturgeons. Sturgeon caviar is among the finest caviar in the world and is famed the world around for its rich flavor and texture.

SUSTAINABLE CAVIAR

Caviar that is farmed in a sustainable manner meant to preserve resources. Sustainable caviar must use natural waters from the native habitat of the species.

UNDERSALTED CAVIAR

Relates to final taste

VISCOSITY

Relates to egg interior liquid.

000 or TRIPLE ZERO CAVIAR

000 refers to the coloring of caviar. On the normal scale, a rating of 000 refers to the lightest caviar which has a silvery-gray color. 00 is a medium gray while 0 is black. Although color rarely has much to do with taste, the lighter varieties of caviar are normally more expensive and prized than darker caviars. It is believed, though not scientifically confirmed, that the younger a sturgeon is, the lighter its produced eggs tend to be. In the lone case of the Osetra sturgeon, lighter eggs tend to come from older specimens.