Caviar has a history that is not to be taken lightly. Originally a food for peasants as well as kings, it is made from harvested fish eggs. Of all the caviar producers in the world, the best caviar is known to come from Russia.
Russian producers have taken the initiative of suspending all caviar production and exportation so that the natural estuary fish supplies can replenish themselves. After all – no fish eggs – no fish – and certainly, no more caviar.
Other markets have tried, and more or less successfully, filled in the gaps left by the Russian caviar kings.
How did caviar become such a fancy snack? Did it have humble beginnings like the lobster did – giant cockroaches fed to servants until Queen Victoria gave them her royal approval? And how did caviar become so expensive?
All these questions (and more) will be answered in the following paragraphs.
Caviar has been a food source for Europeans dating back to the Middle Ages. The word caviar is derived from a Turkish word, khavyar, it comes from the sturgeon’s eggs, which are a rich source of protein.
Fun fact – American saloons routinely served russian caviar in the days of the Wild West! Their naturally salty flavor made the patrons thirsty, so they consequently bought more beer. Nowadays, many bars continue to serve salty snacks, like peanuts – but that’s the way it goes.
In the 1870s, a German entrepreneur realized that the teeming sturgeon in American rivers was a goldmine waiting for him. He cleverly exported the fish eggs – yes, caviar – back to Europe, becoming a millionaire in the process. His price amounted to the outrageously extravagant amount of $1 / pound. Of course that sounds very reasonable in today’s economy. By the turn of the 20th century, other entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon, and Americans were major exporters of caviar.
Scandal soon followed when it was discovered that up to 90% of the so-called Russian caviar shipped into the US was actually American caviar shipped to Europe, and then shipped back at a much higher price! As they say, there’s one born every minute! Strict controls were made, so that now when you buy Russian caviar, it is bound to be the real thing.
Meanwhile the sturgeon fish was nearing extinction, and new sources of caviar had to be found. Salmon eggs and whitefish became introduced as a more economical variant of the prized fish eggs. As a substitute source, steelhead, trout and lumpfish were also developed as new caviar breeding opportunities. By the 1960s, sturgeon eggs were now so rare they were priced exorbitantly for the majority of caviar connoisseurs.
These new types were known as “Red”Salmon Caviar and “”Golden”Whitefish Caviar. The red salmon roe are larger – like teeny tiny balloons, while the traditional sturgeon type is a micro-bubble one tenth the salmon roe dimensions. Typically served as an appetizer, it may be presented in mother of pearl spoons, since steel or silver cutlery may taint its delicate aroma.