What is Caviar: Explained


Regiis Ova Caviar
Regiis Ova Caviar by Chef Thomas Keller

Often associated with opulence and tsars, caviar are unfertilized eggs harvested from sturgeon. While many types of sturgeon can be found in several parts of the world, it’s the eggs sourced from Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea that are traditionally viewed as the finest caviar. Caviar is versatile: these delightful fish eggs can be served solo, as a canapé or hors d’oeuvres, or as a fancy garnish on your favorite dishes that would typically require salt.


Russ Daughters Caviar
Russ & Daughter’s Hackleback Caviar Gift Set

What is Caviar Made of?

Caviar are the eggs produced by particular species of female sturgeon. Once caviar is harvested, it is rinsed and brined. The name “caviar” is French and is derived from the Persian root khaviyar, from the word khaya (egg). Caviar is placed in tins or jars that are kept at near-freezing temperatures to allow the fish eggs to age. 

Caviar is graded based on certain characteristics, which influences its cost and popularity. The fish eggs’ size, texture, and taste are evaluated to determine the caviar’s grade. There are different types of caviar, including:

  • Almas: This gold colored caviar is harvested from albino Iranian Beluga sturgeon that are 60- to 100-years-old. This critically endangered sturgeon species swims in the southern Caspian Sea.
  • Beluga: This gray colored caviar comes from Beluga sturgeon in the waters off Russia and Ukraine. Beluga sturgeon are endangered, so Beluga caviar is high priced and highly sought.
  • Hackleback Caviar: Harvested from the American Hackleback in the Mississippi River, this black colored caviar is still harvested in the wild.
  • Kaluga: Similar to Beluga caviar, Kaluga caviar comes from Kaluga sturgeon that swim in the Amur River basin between China and Russia. Kaluga caviar is golden and has a creamy taste. Kaluga sturgeon are also critically endangered.
  • Ossetra: This brown or amber colored caviar comes from critically endangered Ossetra sturgeon that swim in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, the same waters as the bigger Beluga sturgeon.
  • Sevruga: Harvested from a smaller, critically endangered sturgeon, the starry sturgeon, Sevruga caviar is gray and smaller in size than Beluga and Kaluga caviars and has an intense taste.
  • White Sturgeon: Hailing from the Pacific Ocean waters off the west coast of the U.S., white sturgeon caviar is saltier than other caviars.

Caviar should not be confused with roe, the orange fish eggs that often appear on Japanese sushi. Roe are eggs that come from fish like salmon, trout, and paddlefish, and it is a popular caviar alternative due to its affordability and taste. 

Caviar can range in price from about $50 per ounce to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per ounce, but there are affordable options. Regiis Ova Caviar by Chef Thomas Keller sources their farm-raised caviars, including Ossetra and Siberian, from sturgeon farms that practice sustainable farming. Most caviar is now farm raised as many species of sturgeon are critically endangered.

Eli Zabar's Caviar
Eli Zabar’s Caviar Set

What Does Caviar Taste Like?

Caviar looks like tiny pearls and tastes salty and buttery. The fish eggs have a smooth mouthfeel and a satisfying popping when the small balls are rolled around the roof of the mouth, releasing a briny juice. The fish eggs should not be chewed as that diminishes the taste dramatically. Instead, use your tongue to savor each bead and its buttery taste and let the fish eggs melt in your mouth. Depending on the variety, some caviar, like Kaluga, have a creamy taste while Beluga has a creamy and nutty taste and Ossetra has a briny and nutty taste.

A true delicacy, caviar is served raw and in small portions. The fish eggs come in various colors from gold and tan to brown and gray. Once harvested from the sturgeon, caviar is cured and then eaten by the partial teaspoonful either from the spoon itself or off your hand (yes, really. Place a small amount on the back of your hand, between your thumb and index finger). If you use a spoon, it should be made of Mother of Pearl because Mother of Pearl is inert and does not hold or transfer flavor; therefore, it will not affect the fish eggs’ taste. 
Caviar can be eaten either alone or on blinis, tiny Russian buckwheat pancakes, topped with crème fraîche and, optionally, garnishes like chopped egg, capers, chives, and finely minced red onion. Caviar may also be served with crackers or toast points. Caviar is an excellent addition to scrambled eggs, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, and fish. Do not cook caviar, but, instead, add it as a topping to cooked foods. While often served with Champagne, caviar is ideally paired with vodka as vodka is a neutral spirit. No matter how you enjoy your caviar, be sure to first try a little of it plain.

Regiis Ova Caviar
Regiis Ova Caviar by Chef Thomas Keller

Where to Buy Caviar?

From Goldbelly, of course! While you can find caviar at the top restaurants and grocers around the world, Goldbelly offers the convenience of ordering the finest caviar from the world’s best purveyors shipped to your home. Store your caviar in the coldest part of your refrigerator — do not freeze it. Then, place your caviar tin or jar on ice when you’re ready to serve it. You can also put it in a glass bowl and set the bowl on a bed of crushed ice.

If you’re eager to try caviar at home, try caviar kits with all the accouterments like Eli Zabar’s Caviar Set, which includes 2 ounces of American Osetra caviar, crème fraîche, house-made blinis, and a caviar spoon, or Russ & Daughters Hackleback Caviar Gift Set, which comes with a 50-500 gram tin of Hackleback Caviar, crème fraîche, blinis, and a Mother of Pearl spoon. Get ready for your next party or dinner party with party appetizers and hors d’oeuvres — all shipping nationwide on Goldbelly!