Here are the tips and tricks of buying Caviar

Tips on buying caviar

By: Austin Pejman Chehrazi and Wael Abu Zaid

Using One’s Full Senses to Differentiate Caviar Quality

Well, at the end of the day, even after reading everything about Caviar types, consumption techniques and pricing, it would not matter an ounce if one could not as much tell the difference between fresh quality Caviar and mini jellybeans. King Caviar hopes that the following tips can be a helpful start. Here we go…

King caviar tins

When “Caviar tasting”, you should actually be Caviar “looking, smelling, touching, and tasting”, and some even claim, “listening” as you squeeze those beads between the fingers or your teeth, but in all using all those senses to distinguish what is worthy of the name, and what to avoid. All worthy affairs require the use of one’s full senses and this one job is complex enough to require you to be at full attention. Using all the senses, one will scrutinize the size, texture, colour, scent and taste of the eggs, in line with the specie’s specifications.

The top eggs for each species are those that come from older (and by extension larger) Sturgeons, which are more likely to also be larger as compared to ones harvested from a younger, and by extension smaller, counterpart. They should also be firm but not too rigid or plastic-like (at all) that they would slip through your fingers, or your teeth likewise. Instead, they should squish with a bit of pressing and be more greasy than watery. In addition, contrary to what one might think, darker coloured eggs are not the “pearls” to go after but rather lighter shades are what to look for.

As far as the scent, it should not be fishy because the best and freshest eggs have a rather neutral aroma that is rather pleasing and never overpowering. In order to take in the aroma properly, flatten a few eggs between the sheets of an unscented tissue, or even your fingers if you are adventurous. After making certain of the scent, use a non-metallic means of spooning the caviar, place at least a teaspoon amount on top of your tongue, then gently press the bunch against the roof of your mouth. Unlike fine words, quality eggs should never roll off the tongue but must rather squish under gentle pressure and give off a mild scent that give you another chance to test the aroma by breathing out through your nostrils. If too much saltiness obscures your scent and flavour receptors, take heed as you have most likely been given inferior roes masked by salt.

In the meantime, your tin or glass container of Caviar should be airing out for 10-12 minutes. If the eggs expand, they are the right product, but if they give-off water and somewhat change shape, the quality is of questionable grade and non-natural additives could be at play.

Steps to Follow when Purchasing Caviar

In order to ascertain that you are purchasing fresh quality Caviar, the most certain way is to make sure of the legality of the eggs being purchased. To do so, all you have to do is take the simple step of “following the law”, as many other people working in conjunction with governments and international organizations have done the rest for us. On each tin or jar of legal farmed Caviar there must be a CITES label which you have to learn to decipher in order to be able to navigate the winding roadmap of world Caviar’s atlas. If the tin you are purchasing does not have a CITES label on it, then not only could it contain illegal/extinction Caviar, but any guarantee of quality and freshness would naturally be questionable as well. To purchase such a container would be a mistake on ethical (conservation) grounds, illegal on enforcement grounds, and risky on grounds of health and expenditure. Not only you could be inadvertently aiding in the destruction of the last vestiges of wild Sturgeon, but also on a more personal level, you could be purchasing fugazi Caviar, outright fake or even unhealthy substitutes of the real McCoy. 

Now to be fair, legal wild Caviar is placed on international markets in very minute amounts by some range countries as per international agreement, but the amounts are so miniscule that unless you are certain of the dealer, and yourself (to be discernible), then most likely you are being played. In some eco-conscious countries like the US, even such legal wild Caviar with CITES “W” Source Code label is still illegal, as any trade in such endangered species is a step in the wrong direction, especially considering the extreme threats nature is dealing with on all fronts in this century. Making a conscious decision to boycott wild Caviar is the only way to give nature a chance to breathe and the Sturgeon to breed back to healthy numbers. Even more, in the US, Beluga Caviar has been banned since 2005, to make certain of the King’s survival. So any Beluga you buy there is either its Chinese cousin Kaluga or it is just illegal and dangerous. Now to be fair, the Kaluga is perhaps the next best thing after Beluga, but still, you should always know what you are paying for.  

The name of Caviar on the retailer’s label does not necessarily correspond with the country of origin. For example, a label indicating “Russian Caviar” or “Persian Caviar” does not necessarily mean what is contained within is from Russia or Iran. It could also be the case that the generic name for the species of Sturgeon is being used while the fish itself was raised in Israel, Italy or China. To know where the Caviar has been produced, you must look at the ISO Country of Origin Code on the tin’s CITES label instead and not rely solely on the label placed on the container by the seller.

Likewise, beware of any company retail labels that can be misleading as concerns the type of Caviar contained within. For example, relating non-Caspian strains with those of the Caspian and Black Sea by mixing their names is one such method to watch out for before rushing into a purchase. Some examples can include, “Siberian Oscietra” or “Amur Beluga”. Siberian and Amur Sturgeons do not produce Beluga, but Kaluga Caviar. So read the section on Types of Caviar in this website, or elsewhere, as you like, to better learn the tricks of the trade and avoid being hustled. Remember, as with other important information necessary for purchasing good Caviar, the actual specie is listed on the CITES label with an actual code.

There are a few other bits of important information on that strip of CITES label coding vital for a good purchase. The Year of Harvest, Official Registration Code of the Processing Plant, Lot ID No. (along Expiration or Best Consumed By Date) , and CITES Export Permit and Re-Export Certificate Number are also coded for full traceability so you can assure the quality and freshness of your Caviar and just as importantly, its ecofriendly source and specie guarantee.

Finally, only purchase Caviar tins/jars according to the amounts you would be using for one day/night’s usage, instead of bulk purchasing, as this product is highly perishable. For example, if there will be two of you consuming once a week at 50 grams of Caviar per session for a month vacation, instead of buying a 200 gram tin/jar, purchase four 50 gram packs. There will be a slight cost difference in your disfavour, sure, but not as much when you have to throw out 3/4 of what you purchased less than one week after you opened the container.

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