A Brief History of Caviar

The sturgeon is a prehistoric fish that has roamed the earth’s waters for more than 250 million years. In the earliest known consumption of caviar, it was highly revered and especially prized by Russia’s ruling class. Once caviar became a staple at the Imperial Court, Russian royalty was known to consume large amounts daily.

Because sturgeon were so large and difficult to catch, their eggs were in high demand. Those fortunate enough to catch sturgeon proudly displayed the live fish to their guests before their feast. It soon became regular practice to carry caviar while traveling to Paris and other European cities.

In the early 1900s, the United States became the world’s largest producer of caviar. Sturgeon roe was so plentiful that it was often discarded or fed to pets. Local pub owners served salted caviar with onions to encourage patrons to consume more beverages, a precursor to the modern practice of serving pretzels and peanuts in bars.

The sturgeon population in the United States rapidly became depleted as the species was overfished. This led to a 1906 ban on commercial sturgeon fishing. Since that ban, sturgeon may be caught only by sport fishermen, and the species has become heavily monitored and regulated.

Similar to the U.S. sturgeon population, sturgeon in the Caspian Sea became depleted by commercial fishing over the course of the 20th century. The Soviet Union began to regulate commercial sturgeon fishing and went so far as to ban open sea fishing temporarily in 1962. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) recognizes the sturgeon as an endangered species.

Today, there are only 2 million Huso Huso sturgeon (Beluga) worldwide. In 2005, the United States banned the importation of wild Beluga caviar to the United States. Fortunately, farmed caviar, active sturgeon hatchery programs and strictly monitored wild catch quotas protect the viability of the species while offering a sustainable and lasting means to the enjoyment of this fabled delicacy.

The sturgeon is a prehistoric fish that has roamed the earth’s waters for more than 250 million years. In the earliest known consumption of caviar, it was highly revered and especially prized by Russia’s ruling class. Once caviar became a staple at the Imperial Court, Russian royalty was known to consume large amounts daily.Because sturgeon were so large and difficult to catch, their eggs were in high demand. Those fortunate enough to catch sturgeon proudly displayed the live fish to their guests before their feast. It soon became regular practice to carry caviar while traveling to Paris and other European cities.

In the early 1900s, the United States became the world’s largest producer of caviar. Sturgeon roe was so plentiful that it was often discarded or fed to pets. Local pub owners served salted caviar with onions to encourage patrons to consume more beverages, a precursor to the modern practice of serving pretzels and peanuts in bars.

The sturgeon population in the United States rapidly became depleted as the species was overfished. This led to a 1906 ban on commercial sturgeon fishing. Since that ban, sturgeon may be caught only by sport fishermen, and the species has become heavily monitored and regulated.

Similar to the U.S. sturgeon population, sturgeon in the Caspian Sea became depleted by commercial fishing over the course of the 20th century. The Soviet Union began to regulate commercial sturgeon fishing and went so far as to ban open sea fishing temporarily in 1962. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) recognizes the sturgeon as an endangered species.

Today, there are only 2 million Huso Huso sturgeon (Beluga) worldwide. In 2005, the United States banned the importation of wild Beluga caviar to the United States. Fortunately, farmed caviar, active sturgeon hatchery programs and strictly monitored wild catch quotas protect the viability of the species while offering a sustainable and lasting resource.

Glossary

Anadromous — [uh-nad-ruh-muhs]

Refers to a fish which swims primarily in salt water but returns to fresh waters sources to breed. Sturgeon, like salmon, will swim hundreds of miles if unimpeded to lay their eggs.

Astrakhan

The Russian city located roughly 100 miles up the Volga river is where the first modern caviar industry was founded.

Aquaculture

A means of farm raising fish in a controlled environment. Aquaculture can either be open where in fish are raised in cages or netted areas that are part of a larger body of water or closed where they are raised in tanks that are entirely separate from any natural water source.

Beluga

The largest and most revered grade of caviar. There is only one species that provides beluga caviar, that being the Huso Huso. These enormous fish can grow up to 25 feet long and weigh as much as 2500 pounds. Currently an endangered species, caviar from the beluga sturgeon is heavily regulated and is seldom exported.

Blini

A thin pancake made traditionally in Russia with a yeasted batter made with wheat flour and used to serve caviar.

Caspian Sea

A body of water in Asia surrounded by Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Azerbaijan. Because of its ideal breeding grounds, this body of water has contained the largest natural population of sturgeon and is historically significant as the birthplace of caviar.

Crème fraîche

French for "fresh cream" is the European version of U.S. sour cream. It is a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream. Unlike sour cream, crème fraîche can be whisked to form whipped cream. and can be cooked without curdling because of its higher fat content.

Malossol

Russian word which translates to mean "little salt". Traditionally caviar was difficult to preserve and more salt was needed as the caviar traveled or aged. Thus malossol caviar was lauded as being that of the freshest and highest quality.

Mother of Pearl

A traditional substance used to make caviar accessories among many other things. Also known as Nacre, a strong, resilient and iridescent layer on the inside of a mollusk shell. Chief sources are the pearl oyster, found primarily in Asia; freshwater pearl mussels, found in rivers of the United States, Europe, and Asia; and the abalone of California, Japan, and other Pacific regions.

Organic

A product is organic if it and the environment it is produced in is certified to be free of harmful chemicals and without the aid of artificial growth hormones.

Osetra

Currently there are only three species of sturgeon that are confirmed by CiTES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to be specifically Osetra caviar, that being Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii (Russian Osetra), Acipenser Persicus (Iranian Osetra) and Acipenser Baerii (Siberian Osetra).

Sevruga

A slight and mobile fish, the Acipenser Stellatus provides steel gray, small bead caviar similar to American Paddlefish.

Sturgeon

The common name used for some 26 species of fish in the Acipenser family in which several species are harvested for their roe and made into caviar.

Sustainable

A movement to produce goods that are "beyond organic" in that they embrace local production and enrich rather than deplete the environment and workers.