Overcoming Common Caviar Myths, Part I

Oy, fish eggs! If the fact that caviar is fish roe has kept you from trying it, we can’t blame you. But aficionado or not, you’re probably entertaining a few caviar myths that simply aren’t true.

For most of us, caviar myths are inextricably entwined with caviar realities, since this so-called delicacy (fish eggs!) isn’t exactly a part of our everyday lives. Often we’re convinced that it’s got to taste horrible — but it doesn’t. Trust your Humble Writer on this; it may not be a taste sensation, but it’s hardly inedible.

Nor is it bad for you — in fact, caviar is disgustingly healthy, given its rich harvest of vitamins and minerals, and its low calorie count. But these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to myths about caviar. In this tasty two-part article, we’ll introduce you to the truth about a half-dozen more.

Myth 1: Caviar only comes from Russia and neighboring countries.

Some would argue that the best caviar does, while others will claim that caviar from the Caspian Sea region is the only real caviar — in the same sense that sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France is the only real champagne. But when you get right down to it, both viewpoints are caviar myths.

Caviar is fish eggs (a.k.a. roe) cured with salt. That’s all it is. Even if you classify caviar as only sturgeon roe (which is another myth we’ll be busting in a minute), there are dozens of species of sturgeons all over the world, even in the USA. In fact, some of the best sturgeon caviar these days comes from North America.

Myth 2: Only sturgeon eggs can truly be considered caviar.

Picky, picky. Also untrue. This caviar myth is fine for people who want to turn up their noses at other salted roe, and sure, sturgeon caviar (especially some European sturgeon caviar) is generally accepted to be the best there is. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get caviar from other sources.

For example caviar made from the eggs of the rare American paddlefish (a relative of the sturgeon) is considered a delicacy. Fine caviars from other fish, including whitefish and lumpfish, are quite common, and even caviars made from the relatively large, reddish eggs of salmon have their adherents.

Myth 3: Caviar prices are artificially inflated.

Here’s another caviar myth that’s easy to dispose of. First off, there’s plenty of relatively low-end caviar available; you can prove this by making a trip to your local grocery story. It usually comes from the aforementioned lumpfish and whitefish clans, and you can get it for as little as a couple of bucks an ounce.

Now, sturgeon roe — that’s another matter. Sturgeon are very long-lived fish that take years to mature enough to reproduce. If you kill them and take away their eggs, will those eggs become grown-up sturgeon? They will not. Sturgeon populations are decreasing rapidly everywhere, and so caviar prices go up.

In fact, the source-fish are getting so rare that sturgeon fisheries in Europe are often controlled by organized crime; this is especially true in Russia these days. If the fact that the caviar industry is profitable enough for the mafia to get involved in doesn’t disprove this one of many caviar myths, nothing will!