What is Caviar? A Complete Guide to Caviar

This guide to caviar explores the most common types of caviar in the market today and offers tips on how to buy, serve and store this luxurious food.

Riou / Getty Images
Riou / Getty Images

When you’re looking to impress your guests with luxurious food, then look no further than caviar, the highly sought-after appetizer of lightly salted sturgeon fish eggs or fish roe. This expensive food has been delighting seafood lovers for centuries and its popularity continues to soar today. Recently, Tiktok influencers expanded caviar’s appeal by touting it as a casual snack on a chip. Read on to find out what caviar tastes like, what caviar is made of, what caviar is used for, and why caviar is so expensive.

What Is Caviar Made of?

Caviar is made of lightly salted fish eggs or fish roe. To be considered “true caviar,” the fish roe must come from sturgeon, the common name for the 26 species of fish that belong to the Acipenseridae family.

The three main types of sturgeon caviar are beluga, osetra, and sevruga.

  • Beluga caviar: Made from beluga sturgeon that are relatively scarce, this caviar is known for having the best quality and taste, therefore it’s one of most expensive types of caviar. Its extremely large eggs range in color from pale silver-gray to black and have a buttery, creamy, and nutty flavor.

  • Osetra caviar: Its medium-sized eggs are gray to brownish in color in a savory brine with notes of dried fruit and toasted grains.

  • Sevruga caviar: Known as the smaller, firmer, and more delicate of the caviar family, these shiny gray eggs have a refined balance of butter and brine with a remarkably clean finish.

Substitutes for True Caviar

Other popular and much less expensive types of caviar that are considered substitutes for true caviar are.

  • Lumpfish caviar: Tiny, hard, black eggs.

  • Whitefish or American Golden caviar: Small, yellow-gold eggs.

  • Salmon or red caviar: Medium-size, pale orange to deep red eggs.

  • Pasteurized caviar: Roe that has been partially cooked.

  • Pressed caviar: Damaged or fragile eggs that can be a combination of several different roes.

What Does Caviar Taste Like?

Even though there are several types of caviar with different appearances, tastes, and textures, there are a few common characteristics of caviar.

  • When eating caviar, you’ll probably notice a salty, briny flavor with a slight fishiness–one that’s similar to the flavor of raw oysters. A second flavor wave follows with a buttery richness or nutty lingering flavor.

  • To experience caviar’s unique texture, roll the caviar over your tongue instead of taking a bite and feel the skin of the roe pop in your mouth.

Grades of Caviar

Caviar is classified into two grades to alert consumers of certain attributes.

  • Grade 1: These eggs meet the best standards for color, size, lucidity, uniformity, aroma, and firmness. Usually Grade 1 caviar are the largest, firmest, most intact eggs with fine flavor and color.

  • Grade 2: While these eggs are tasty and decadent, they are less delicate and less uniform eggs, so they may be less appealing to the eye or palate.

Caviar Nutrition

Besides being a popular delicacy for seafood lovers and adventurous eaters, caviar is being consumed for its nutritional value of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, and other vitamins and minerals. In fact, one spoonful of caviar supplies the adult daily requirement of vitamin B12.

How to Serve Caviar

Caviar should be served very cold in a bowl surrounded by ice. It’s usually served in containers made of mother-of-pearl, wood, horn, or gold because silver and steel bowls can alter the flavor of caviar. Pair it simply with toast points or blinis, crème fraiche, and lemon wedges. Iced vodka and champagne are classic drinks to serve with this fancy food.

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Where to Buy Caviar

Caviar is packaged in tightly sealed metal tins and can be bought online or at gourmet markets. Since unpasteurized caviar is extremely perishable, make sure online orders are packaged with ice packs.

How Much is Caviar? 

The price of caviar varies depending on market fluctuation, the type and quality of caviar, the time of year, and geographic location. On average, caviar can cost anywhere from $40 to $830 per ounce.

What is the Most Expensive Caviar?

According to the Guinness World Records, the most expensive caviar is ‘Almas’ from the Iranian beluga fish. One kilogram of this caviar regularly sells for $34,500.

Why Is Caviar So Expensive?

The scarcity of wild sturgeon has been the leading determinant of caviar’s price since the late 19th century. Back then, it was a profitable venture to catch caviar producing fish so less sturgeon became available and the price of true caviar skyrocketed. To this day, sturgeon species have still not recovered. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), all remaining species of sturgeon are threatened with extinction due to blocked migration routes, poaching for the illegal trade in wild caviar, and habitat loss. Therefore, since it’s more difficult to get caviar, the more expensive it tends to be. Advances in fish-farming has allowed caviar to be sourced from sustainably-farmed sturgeon, but the breeding and harvesting processes are still very expensive. Overall, market prices continue to reflect the overall scarcity of sturgeon products, the high costs of caviar production, and the high consumer demand for caviar.

How to Store Caviar

Store unopened fresh caviar in the refrigerator for up to a month and consume it within three days of opening. Pasteurized caviar is less perishable and may be stored at room temperature before opening, but be sure to refrigerate it for no more than three days once it's opened.