Nothing says luxury like topping a blini with some crème fraiche and a small spoonful of caviar. Although Beluga caviar has not been available in the US since 2005, there is still a good selection of black caviars available to us, as well as a variety of non-sturgeon caviars – packaged in the US as roes.In this article we take an in-depth look at caviars and roes, including the difference between the two in the US and what some of the main types of caviar are, as well as how these are best served. We also consider some of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of serving caviar and review ten of the best caviars currently available.
The Olma Beluga hybrid caviar is our best pick of the caviar as being the next best thing to a traditional Beluga in the US.
The ‘little salt’ Marky’s Caviar Alaskan pink salmon roe is our budget pick with its distinctive salmon flavor and lingering finish.
Table of Contents
- Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Caviar
- 1. Olma Beluga Sturgeon Hybrid Caviar
- 2. American Salmon Roe Pink Caviar by Marky’s Caviar
- 3. Marky’s Hackleback Caviar
- 4. Black Pearl Ossetra Sturgeon caviar
- 5. Bemka.com American Sturgeon Hackleback Wild Caviar
- 6. Caviar & Caviar Premium STURGEON Osetra Caviar
- 7. Black Diamond Hackleback Caviar
- 8. Roland Caviar
- 9. Bemka.com French Trout Wild Caviar
- 10. Paddlefish Caviar By Black Diamond
- Things to Consider Before Buying Caviar
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Caviar
1. Olma Beluga Sturgeon Hybrid Caviar
The Olma Beluga hybrid caviar is sourced from a sturgeon hybrid of Huso huso and Acipenser ruthensus sturgeons and it has a mild buttery note which differs from a traditional Beluga caviar; along with a unique and full flavored aftertaste.
The sturgeon are farmed in Italy and after harvesting are cured with salt by Caspian Salt Masters. Its color can range from light grey to black and it is large-size pearly grains, although a small number of buyers consider the grains are too small to be a true Beluga caviar.Coming as a 3.5 oz jar, this caviar is shipped overnight for maximum freshness. This pasteurized caviar has been produced using many of the traditional Russian techniques but at the same time meeting the standards and regulations required for import into the US. It has a refrigerated shelf life of one year.
2. American Salmon Roe Pink Caviar by Marky’s Caviar
The Marky’s Caviar Alaskan pink salmon roe is a malossol, or ‘little salt’ roe. Sourced from pink salmon, this roe is giant orange eggs with flashes of pink and red and has a distinctive salmon flavor and lingering finish. This comes as a 4 oz jar which is shipped cold and expedited and should be consumed within two weeks of receiving as this is unpasteurized; instead, relies on salt for preservation.
3. Marky’s Hackleback Caviar
The larger 7 oz jar of Marky’s Caviar Hackleback caviar is sourced from US- farm raised Scaphirhynchus platorynchus, a true sturgeon. This grade 1 caviar has a rich, buttery and intensely nutty taste similar tasted to Ossetra and Sevruga but as the Hackleback starts carrying eggs after four years, it allows more cost-effective caviar to be produced.This is a black caviar with small pearly grains which have been salt cured and this has a refrigerated shelf life of between four to six weeks. A small number of buyers consider that this caviar is on the mushy side and will not ‘pop’ in the mouth as other caviar will. This caviar is shipped expedited and on ice.
4. Black Pearl Ossetra Sturgeon caviar
Sourced from premium quality Ossetra, the Black Pearl caviar malossol is sourced from nearly wild grown sturgeon of the Thousand Island Lake. The Ossetra sturgeon are aqua cultured in environmentally friendly conditions, producing a strong and buttery caviar with a long lasting aftertaste. The grains have a diameter of over 3mm (around ⅛") and the color can be pearl or dark gray. This caviar has been cured in the malossol style and then packed in 3.5 oz vacuum sealed tins.This unpasteurized caviar is fresh packed every month and ships cold two day air three days a week. This should be kept refrigerated and is best consumed within one week of delivery. This may have a slightly milder taste than other caviar.
5. Bemka.com American Sturgeon Hackleback Wild Caviar
The 2 oz jar of Bemka Hackleback caviar has a nutty, buttery and sweet flavor, similar to Ossetra. This is a small and firm grain caviar ranging from dark to black in color and has been sourced from US Hackleback sturgeon. This is shipped next day and on ice to keep it fresh. The odd buyer has found this to be on the mushy side and that the grains are on the smaller side of caviar.
6. Caviar & Caviar Premium STURGEON Osetra Caviar
The 2 oz jar of Sasanian sturgeon premium fresh caviar has been sourced from farm-raised sturgeon in clean spring waters in Poland and processed by the Caspian methods in an FDA, USDA and HACCP inspected facility and every jar is fully traceable. This unpasteurized Ossetra caviar is medium dark grey pearls which are creamy and smooth.This is shipped cold and expedited and will keep unopened in the refrigerator for up to 60 days but best eaten the same day once open. Some buyers have found this caviar to be on the mushy side and it may be lacking in taste.
7. Black Diamond Hackleback Caviar
The Black Diamond Caviar Hackleback caviar is sustainably sourced from sturgeon which have been caught from the Mississippi estuaries. This 1.5 oz jar of unpasteurized caviar is jet-black in color with a firm texture and savory taste and is shipped on ice. This caviar may not have as much ‘pop’ as expected and its milder flavor may not be appreciated by all.
8. Roland Caviar
The Roland red roe is whole grain lumpfish roe sourced from the North Sea between Iceland and Denmark. This competitively priced four pack of 2 oz jars has a pronounced yet delicate fish flavor with a firm and crunchy texture.This does contain added ingredients such as spices, gum tragacanth as stabilizer and sodium benzoate as a preservative. It also contains colors which can show up if the roe is served on white plates. Some buyers have found this to be on the mushy side and higher in sodium than other caviars/roes.
9. Bemka.com French Trout Wild Caviar
The Bemka trout roe is sourced from farmed French rainbow trout. This roe is slightly smaller in size than salmon pearls and has a golden color. This trout roe has less intense flavor than salmon roe and some consider this to have a much firmer texture than salmon roe, which also makes it more difficult for them to ‘pop’ in the mouth. This 4 oz tin does ship expedited and on ice to keep it fresh.
10. Paddlefish Caviar By Black Diamond
The 2 oz jar of Black Diamond Caviar Paddlefish or ‘spoonbill’ caviar is wild and sustainably sourced from the rivers and streams of Missouri, Tennessee and Alabama and each tin has full traceability. This caviar has a silky, smooth and complex flavor and comes as small darker colored pearls. This caviar ships next day and on ice. Some buyers consider this caviar a little on the ‘fishy’ side and can run more to mush than other caviars.
Things to Consider Before Buying Caviar
Beluga caviar has always been the elite of the caviar. Sourced from Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Sea, overfishing and environmental contamination contributed to a critical decline in the sturgeons and caused bans to be put in place. Although the ban is now lifted by the UN for some sources of Beluga, it is still illegal to buy Beluga, and has been since 2005, in the US under the Endangered Species Act.
This ban has contributed to a rise in other, often less expensive varieties of caviar and by 2023, the market for caviar is expected to reach $500 million and by 2020, the US is forecast to become the third largest legal producer of caviar in the world.
There may be a chance that Beluga will be available once more in the US in the future. A Florida-based sturgeon farm was granted an exception by the FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) in 2016 for commercial Beluga sale if they met certain exceptions – including not relying on Caspian Sea stock and helping restore wild Beluga. The farm owner was able to import a small number of live sturgeons from Russia to Florida before the 2005 ban took place and has since worked on establishing aqua farming to allow these stocks to develop.
Caviar or Roe?
Both words refer to fish eggs, but roe refers to the fish eggs while caviar is any roe which has been cured or salted and packaged for storing and aging.
In the US and Canada, a product labeled caviar can only come from sturgeon roe.
Roe can be harvested either traditionally or humanely. The roe or eggs have to be removed before they enter the water as once in the water, they are inedible.
Traditionally, the adult roe fish are caught and slowly cooled in ice cold water to render them unconscious before the roe is harvested through an incision in the belly. The single or two roe sacks have to be removed before the fish is dead otherwise the body will release a chemical that harms the eggs.
The roe sacks are then screened to separate the roe from the membrane and the eggs then washed, filtered and prepared for weighing, salt curing and grading. The dead fish are put aside for harvesting for meat.
The humane or ‘no kill’ method uses hormone therapy alongside simple surgery/milking techniques to remove the roe without harming the fish. Unfortunately, this technique is more expensive than traditional harvesting so has yet to catch on and the fact that hormones are used can also prevent roe extracted in this way from being consumed by those who are pregnant.
Serving Caviar and Roe
Caviar should be served cold (between 26°F and 35°F) and in a non-metallic bowl preferably resting in a larger bowl filled with crushed ice. Caviar should never be at room temperature as this allows the aroma and taste to disintegrate. If possible, it is best to keep the caviar in its original jar unless it is transferred to another dish very carefully to reduce the chance of crushing it.
Metallic bowls and utensils should be avoided as these can impart a metallic taste to the caviar. Instead, glass, bone, gold or mother or pearl should be used. It is considered rude to take a large portion of caviar; instead, small amounts (less than a tablespoon) should only be ever taken and consumed in small bites to allow the flavor to come through.
Caviar and roe can be served alone or on blinis (Russian mini crepes), toast or unsalted crackers and typical accompaniments include crème fraiche, hard cooked egg, mini potatoes, minced shallots and lemon wedges. It can also be used as a topping for oysters.
You should never cook caviar as this causes it to toughen up; if it does need to be added to a recipe it should be done at the last possible moment or if you can, just use it as a garnish.
Caviar and roe also suits alcohol accompaniments. If served Russian style, chilled vodka is the usual while Europeans tend to serve with champagne and wines. A sauvignon blanc goes well with salmon, trout and golden whitefish roes, while a blanc de noir and sparking rosé will suit an Ossetra caviar and a rosé can pair with any black caviar.
When calculating caviar or roe requirements for a function, allow half an ounce to an ounce per person. A two ounce jar will usually provide for four people if being served by itself or with blinis while the same size jar should serve around eight people if the caviar or roe is being used as a garnish on canapes. If different caviars are to be served; serve in order of flavor intensity, from mild to more intense.
Take any advice from the producer as to how long the caviar or roe should be stored; most should keep up to six weeks or so unopened in a refrigerator. Caviar is best consumed soon after opening but if you do have some left over, then gently spread the remainder flat – avoiding breaking any eggs – and cover with a layer of plastic wrap and gently press it down to remove air between the wrap and the caviar. The original jar top can then be replaced, and it consumed in the next couple of days.
Types of Caviar
The Beluga (Huso huso) is the largest member of the sturgeon family, growing up to 24 feet long and living for more than 100 years. Although a ‘critically endangered’ species, natural stocks continue to decline. It only spans every three to four years.
Beluga hybrids such as Huso huso x Acipenser baerii are crosses of Beluga with faster spawning varieties which gives the flavor profile of Beluga without impacting as much on the Beluga species. Hybrids such as these are more limited in availability and will cost more.
Kaluga (Huso dauricus) can vary in color from golden to dark brown and these large eggs with their buttery and delicate flavor can sometimes be compared to Beluga. Known as river Beluga, Kaluga are found in the Amur River basin and as a farmed fish, it has improved sustainability and quality control.
The Ossetra (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) sturgeon can live for up to 50 years and the caviar varies in color from golden to deep brown although the lighter color usually seen on the largest eggs is usually most sought after. With a rich and nutty flavor with sea salt hints, Ossetra is usually farmed. There are a number of varieties, including Russian Ossetra and as a premium caviar; Ossetra best suits being served alone or on blinis.
Sevruga (Acipenser stellatus) or Starry sturgeon is also ‘critically endangered’ in the wild and is farm raised in the US. This caviar has a distinctive, crisp and nutty flavor with sweet ocean hints and a buttery finish that stays on the palate.
Like other premium caviars, Sevruga does have a larger price tag although this sturgeon does reproduce faster which helps keep prices down. This caviar is best served on its own as an aperitif. Like other types of premium caviar, Sevruga is graded by size and color and the lighter and larger the eggs, the more valuable.
Sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus) caviar is sometimes marketed as ‘golden Sevruga’ this is incorrect as Sterlet is a different species, although it does make an acceptable substitute for Sevruga. Sterlet can be available as farm raised in the US. It has a milder sweet and nutty flavor with a buttery finish and its grains can vary from light grey to dark grey in color
The Shovelnose (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) or Hackleback sturgeon gives a caviar with sweet and buttery flavor and is sustainably wild-farmed in the Mississippi Lakes area of the US. This caviar is similar in size and shape to Sevruga and is colored dark brown to black with a firm texture.
The Hackleback is the smallest of the sturgeons, with the largest recorded specimen weighing just 9.92 lb. This has no scales which means it cannot be consumed in a kosher diet under Kashrut restrictions and its shovel like snout helps it locate its diet of crustaceans from river sediment.
It does have a delicate and smooth flavor with some extra nutty overtones. As the lowest priced ‘black caviar’ this suits blinis, crème fraiche and lemon wedges.
The Polyodon spathula or American Spoonbill sturgeon is the source of Paddlefish caviar. Found in rivers and lakes in the southern US, Paddlefish pearls are small and black-grey colored with a stronger flavor and earthy finish. This is often a popular caviar for commercial use and suits canapes. Best served with accompaniments such as crème fraiche, minced shallots and potatoes.
Paddlefish can sometimes be marketed as American Sevruga which is not correct, as although it looks like Sevruga, Paddlefish has a very different taste.
Types of Roe
Roes available include Bowfin, which is an inexpensive caviar substitute often used for catering for larger events although it is not suitable for garnishing hot dishes with. Whitefish is natural golden and black roe of small and crisp grains and can be eaten alone or as a garnish and is suitable for Kashrut observant Jews.
Stromluga is from herring from Icelandic waters and is pearlescent eggs with an intense lemony and fruit flavor with smoky notes. Usually colored with squid ink, this roe is best served with crème fraiche on blinis.
Although not commonly eaten as fish in the US, Black and Red Lumpfish are caught in the North Atlantic and Icelandic waters and their roe is the largest selling type of roe globally due to its affordability and availability. Lumpfish roe is usually pasteurized and shelf stable and often used commercially to garnish seafood and fish appetizers. Be careful when serving lumpfish with crème fraiche as it may change color.
There are other roes such as Capelin, Masago and Tobiko which are not roes for consuming alone, rather these make popular toppings for sushi and nigiri dishes.
Red roe includes salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) roe. In Russia, salmon roe is not rated less than caviar from sturgeon. Salmon roe is usually large eggs that are a vivid orange color and have more of a fresh water finish. Salmon roe can be wild caught or farmed in the US and Canada and keta roe is often used as ‘ikura’ in Japanese cuisine.
Salmon roe can be served on warm French baguette, with boiled eggs or on baked potatoes, with onions, parsley and sour cream. There are other varieties of salmon roe such as Oncorhynchus kisutch and Oncorhynchus gorbuscha (Alaskan pink salmon) which usually cost less as they are smaller pearls with a stronger flavor and darker color.
Trout roe is obtained from wild and farmed Rainbow or Salmon trout and is small and buttery with a mild salmon flavor with a smooth and crunchy texture. Suitable for eating alone, in cooking and adding to sauces, trout roe is also available smoked.
In this article we have looked in some detail at caviar, including why Beluga is banned in the US and the options for its future availability, as well as what types of black caviar are actually available to us. We have also considered how it is harvested and some of the best ways to serve and enjoy a wide range of caviars and roes.Whether it is an occasional indulgence, or a regular ‘must have’ we hope that you have enjoyed our article, and that the selection of caviars and roes we have reviewed will help you to select the best caviar next time you fancy some blinis!