It is said that the first people tasting roes were the
Azeris and Persians living at the Kura River on the
area of the former Persian Empire, (today Azerbaijan).
They called them “Chav - Jar” which means a cake of
power. The Persians believed that caviar was a
medicine, which can cure many diseases, and also a
source of energy. Aristotle, the Greek scholar in the
4th century B.C., described caviar as a delicacy made
from the roe (eggs) of sturgeon fish.
During the Roman Empire, caviar was such a luxury so
that it was presented among garlands of flowers, and
trumpets heralded its arrival to the table. The main
consumers of caviar in old Russia were the czars
during the Russian Empire. Every year Czar Nicholas II
received 11 tones of the best caviar as an annual tax
from the fishermen of Astrakhan and Azerbaijan
(Azerbaijan became a part of the Russian Empire after
the Russian - Persian war and now an independent
country after Soviet Union collapsed in 1990).
In the second century B.C., a jar of sturgeon had a
value equal to 100 sheep. Caviar was not always as
expensive as it is today. At the turn of the 20th
century it was offered in pubs and bars throughout the
US, just as peanuts are today. Historical sources say
that 1 kg (2.1 LBS) of French caviar cost less than 20
cents in 1899. Just before World War I the same
kilogram of caviar could be bought for 40 cents,
slightly higher than the cost of bread. Today true
caviar is still among the most expensive and exclusive
of all preserved foods for a number of reasons: the
scarcity caused by over-fishing and pollution, the
labor-intensive processing, and its extreme
perishability. Another reason for its expense is
directly related to the age and size a sturgeon must
reach before it develops its valuable roe.
Various sources insisted that even though beluga
varieties were the most expensive, they didn't always
taste the best. Beluga sturgeon are up to 20 feet
long and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Their
eggs are larger than those of other sturgeon, which
explains why a jar of beluga (2 ozs) caviar smaller
than a can of tuna runs about $120. This price should
be less than the cost of 100 sheep. Today U.S.
accounts for about 80% of the world's beluga market.
In France, laws state that only processed roe of
sturgeon can be called caviar. In the US, however,
various kinds of fish roe can be sold as caviar as
long as the fish type must be indicated on the label.
The major sturgeon species used to produce true caviar
today are Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga. Sturgeon, which
is nearly extinct, was the source of the prized
"golden caviar of the Czars" which got its name from
its golden color.
Caviar is graded by color and size, with the lightest
and largest being the best and therefore the most
expansive. The sturgeon eggs are graded for color,
with 000 indicating the lightest colored and 0 the
darkest. The US and other countries also produce
caviar from the roe of salmon, paddlefish, whitefish
and lumpfish. Each type has different standard and
price is much lower than “true” caviar.
How To Process And Store
Caviars are available pasteurized or fresh.
Pasteurization processing kills bacteria and fungi and
therefore caviar can be stored a period of time.
Caviar should always be stored at 28 degrees to 32
degrees. True caviar can be held unopened under
refrigeration for four weeks. Pasteurized caviars
will keep in the refrigerator unopened for several
months. Once opened, all caviars should be consumed
within two to three days.