Caviar is the best-known delicacy in the world. It is a go-to option for many fine dining enthusiasts, as its texture and flavor provide a one of a kind experience for your taste buds.
Some say it’s an acquired taste, but it takes exactly a single spoonful for caviar to win you over.
If you went shopping for caviar, you’d see that many shops also sell fish roe. It looks and smells the same, so what exactly is the difference between caviar and roe?
What Is Caviar?
Caviar is a salt-cured spread or garnish made from fish eggs of various species of sturgeon. Fish eggs are commonly referred to as fish roe, and Acipenseridae (sturgeon) family is considered to have the best ones.
The most famous caviar comes from the sturgeons of the Caspian Sea, fished by Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. The most popular choices include Beluga caviar, Osetra caviar, Sevruga, white sturgeon caviar, Sterlet, Amur Sturgeon, Hackleback, Kaluga, and the rest of the 27 known species of sturgeon.
What Is Roe?
As you can see, caviar and roe are both fish eggs. And even though all caviar is roe, not all roe is caviar.
Different fish species have eggs that vary in color, size, quantity, and other properties, all of which affect the flavor and texture of the end product.
For instance, caviar usually consists of small black eggs that are lightly salted, while other roe varieties can differ in both color and size. Ikura is bigger and often called red caviar because of its color. You can also find roe that’s gold, brownish, grey, orange, and many other varieties and sizes.
Although by strict definition, caviar must come from a sturgeon, the FDA guidelines allow other types of fish roe to be labeled “caviar.” However, the name of the fish specie must be included, so you’ll probably encounter trout caviar (instead of trout roe) or salmon caviar (instead of salmon roe) when shopping for this delicacy.
This practice would be considered misleading in some other countries, which is why you need to read the label carefully before you make a purchase.
The History of Caviar and Roe
Today, caviar is linked with luxury and wealth in our culture. Like most marine food, it is considered a delicacy, and it comes with a high price tag. We have always harvested and eaten foods from the sea, but fish eggs are probably one of the weirder and more expensive choices.
However, caviar wasn’t always so costly. In the 19th century, it was served in saloons as a cheap, salty snack that would make people buy more drinks. It’s weird when you think about it, but caviar was as cheap as salted nuts or pretzels today. It was mostly because American sturgeon populations have been booming, which drove the price down.
The first words of caviar date back to ancient Greece and Aristotle. He noted that sturgeon eggs were commonly served at parties and festivities. Somewhere along the way, caviar came to Russia, probably in the 13th century. From there, it slowly made its way around Europe.
It was the Russian aristocrats that popularized this salted delicacy, and it’s thanks to them that caviar is still considered food for the rich. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, many people of high status fled the country and settled around Europe. Their desire for caviar remained, which is why the demand for quality caviar began to rise.
Fish roe has been used in other cultures as well. In Finland, burbot eggs are a popular delicacy all around the country. Some go as far as saying that it suppresses Beluga caviar and other popular options, but that is up to individual preferences.
Red caviar or salmon roe, and Tobiko harvested from flying fish are commonly used in Japan by sushi chefs. These fish eggs are less salty and milder compared to traditional caviar.
Why Is Caviar so Expensive?
There are two main reasons why caviar comes with a hefty price tag. First, wild sturgeon everywhere is disappearing because of overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction. In fact, most of the 27 species of sturgeon are now critically endangered.
On top of that, it takes female fish several years to reach maturity and start producing sturgeon roe. Not to mention that most fish are born male.
Because of these reasons, most caviar you see in the shops is farm-raised. That way, wild populations can be allowed to regenerate, even though illegal fishing is still a problem. However, even when farmed, females also take several years to produce sturgeon roe, which is why the price of this delicacy won’t go down anywhere soon.
As we mentioned earlier, most sturgeon species are endangered, which limits the amount of harvested eggs. On the other hand, there are many types of roe from species all over the world. Some of them produce many eggs and take less time to do so, which permits a significantly lower price.
Although fish roe is typically less pricey than caviar, some types come with a high price tag. Make sure to investigate different sources of roe and caviar, as you can often find a bargain with a little bit of research.
Well, since caviar is essentially roe, the taste can’t stray too far from it. Keep in mind that caviar is lightly salted. Salt is used shortly after harvest and processing to preserve caviar before it’s packed in tins.
Salt prolongs caviar shelf-life, and it can remain fresh for up to 2 months if stored correctly in the coldest part of the refrigerator. After opening it, the shelf-life drops to 2-3 days.
So essentially, the difference is that caviar is saltier than roe with a slightly different flavor since roe is not salted or cured.
Although some sources state that caviar can come from fish eggs or male sperm, that is incorrect. Caviar is exclusively made with unfertilized fish eggs from a female.
The Difference Between Roe and Caviar – Which One to Buy?
Caviar is considered the most famous delicacy in the world. It’s reserved for special occasions, and it’s not to be eaten every day. However, manufacturers in the United States have used some misleading labeling in the past, which may make it confusing to differentiate between caviar and fish roe.
Roe that comes from a sturgeon is called caviar, so terms like “sturgeon caviar” or “roe caviar” are redundant. If you want fish eggs that are not caviar, you can get salmon roe, trout roe, or any other type you prefer.
If you wonder which one to get, it basically comes down to personal preferences. Some people don’t want to hear anything besides the fresh black caviar served on ice, which pops in your mouth while salt and oily pleasure take over your senses. Others may fancy some other type of roe that has a less “fishy” hint. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what you prefer.
We’ve covered the best online caviar purveyors in another post, so make sure to check it and learn where you can get top-quality caviar and roe to start your fine dining journey.