The Sturgeon

The Sturgeon is a bottom-feeder prehistoric fish that has roamed the cold rivers, lakes and oceans of the northern regions of the northern hemisphere and falls under the Acipenseridae family. It has no scales and unlike other fish, it has no fishbone, but instead has a skeleton of regular bones. It even looks primeval, with an elongated nose and sucker-type mouth with armored-like body, and can live for over a century. Its mouth extends from its face on the lower half and is covered with barbels, taste sensitive to pinpoint food. After a century in the wild, one can grow up to a ton and a half and contain 15-20% of that weight in eggs, which can count as many as a million pearls and more.

There are 27 types of Sturgeon in all whose natural habitat runs from Northeast Asia to the Caspian/Black Sea, and parts of Northern Europe and North America. Depending on the type, some Sturgeons spend most of their premature life in freshwater rivers and ponds, slowly making their way to the salty seas where they live until reproduction, making them “anadromous”, like the wild Salmon. Although each of these ancient Sturgeon species have been used as a food source since antiquity, the Big-3 Caspian species are the producers of the most prized Caviars, historically and otherwise: Huso Huso (Beluga Caviar Sturgeon), Acipenser gueldenstaedtii (Oscietra/Osetra Caviar Sturgeon), and Acipenser stellatus/Acipenser Persicus (Sevruga Caviar Sturgeon).

These three species had also called the Black Sea and its tributaries home, at some degree or other in history.

The Caviar

According to CITES, Caviar is the product made from unfertilized fish eggs, treated with grade salt, of the Acipenseridae family (including the genera Acipenser, Huso, Pseudoscaphirhynchus and Scaphirhynchus). Due to their shape, shine and value, these eggs have also been referred to as black pearls, although they run the gamut from shades of gold, brown, green, grey and white.

5 Main Caspian (and Black/Azov) Sea Sturgeons and their 4 Monarch Caviars

The Belugas (King of Kings & the King)
Almas Caviar (H. Huso Sturgeon). This Imperator of Caviars stands at the top of all lists: the whitish to light yellow roe from the very rare Albino Huso Huso (Beluga) that has lived for around one hundred years. It is aptly named, as in Persian “almas” means “diamond”. This type of Sturgeon lives mostly in the southern sectors of the Caspian Sea, in the deep Iranian sector, where it is less polluted and safer to survive longer. This most expensive Caviar can run for as much as $35,000-$50,000 a kilo, depending. It is very creamy smooth with rich nutty undertones and melts easier in the mouth than other, and younger, roes. It is also more difficult to cure for optimal quality.

Beluga Caviar (H. Huso Sturgeon). The King of Caviars, the most prized Caviar (after almas) and also the largest (3-5 mm) and lightest roe (in color), which runs in color from stainless silver to metallic black. H. Huso Sturgeon can live up to 120 years (average: 50-60 years today) and reach an average weight of 50-500kg (rarely up to a ton), measuring up to five meters longs. Beluga was once the choice reserve of emperors of Persia and Russia and any anglers who could get away with hunting a Huso for themselves must have done so, but at the cost of their life, if caught by the authorities. Beluga is best enjoyed with the most minimum condiments such as toast points or Russian blinis (in order not to distract from its own softly smooth rich buttery taste, leaving that to more common Caviars). The price of farmed Beluga Caviar runs from $5000-$10,000/kg, depending on origin and quality.

Caviar Classic offers Beluga Caviar for the enjoyment of our valued customers.
Oscietra Caviar (Russian Queen)
Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii). Producing the Queen of Caviars, this one is right in the middle. Although smaller as a fish with a roe medium in size (2-3 mm), its eggs are most akin to colorful jewels running the range and breadth of gold, brown and greens, the ones with a darker hue being from younger females. The lighter eggs do have a richer flavor, coming from older Sturgeon, and would cost you a few bucks more. Royal Oscietra Caviar are the rare, one in a thousand, golden eggs of Oscietra Sturgeon, with slightly larger eggs, a mild nutty flavor, with a soft length that remains on the palate.

Historically, this Sturgeon is referred to as Russian Sturgeon and the word Oscietra itself simply means “Sturgeon” in Russian (осётр). Russian Sturgeon can live 40-50 years, weigh 25-125 kilograms and measure up to 2.5 meters (average: 1.5 meter). The female reach reproductive maturity at the age of 10-16 in the wild and reproduce every 4 to 6 years. There are a good following of Caviar aficionados who claim that Oscietra should be the king of Caviars despite its smaller jewels, due to its more intricate richness and subtleness in its fishy taste, which is considered the best quality for the price in all Caviars. The range of its colors only adds to that argument, with those rare golden eggs and their rich creamy flavor. However, Beluga, due to its size, delicate taste, history and rare breeds only keeps Oscietra lovers at bay as a viable opposition and holds the position of king.

The price of farmed Oscietra Caviar runs from $2500-$7500/kg, depending on origin and quality.

Caviar Classic offers Oscietra Caviar for the enjoyment of our valued customers.

Sevruga Caviar (Prince of Persia)
Persian Sturgeon (Acipenser Persicus). Producing the Prince of Caviars and coming from the smallest of the 3 species of Caspian Sturgeons, its roes run from pearlescent light grey to coal black, with smaller eggs than the other two. Also known as the Persian Sturgeon, it is the most common of the three, lives for around 30-50 years, reaching a length of 1.4-2.5 meters and weighing 20-30 kilos. Female Persian Sturgeon reach reproductive maturity at an average age of 10-15 years old. Look for a strongly marine flavor profile with nutty and creamy notes.

Stellate and Sterlet Sturgeons (Acipenser stellatus and Acipenser ruthenus), are the only other two species, also only found naturally in the Caspian/Black/Azov, that produce the Prince of Caviars, the Sevruga. Both are forms of stellate Sturgeon, the latter being resident of the upper and middle Volga River basin and the former which is found in two genetically different forms in the northern and southern Caspian Sea. They are smaller than Beluga’s Sturgeon, at 25 kilograms and 2 meters, and live a much shorter lifespan, topping 30 years. Sexual maturity is at 6-8 years old. They are the other source of Sevruga Caviar in addition to A. Persicus (Persian) Sturgeon.

General Caspian/Black

To be noted here, what to keep in mind is that no matter which species, the cleaner, deeper and colder the sea a Sturgeon lives in, the tastier the Caviar, due to the higher fat content of the eggs. The fat content protects the eggs from the high-pressured deep cold water. This is one reason wild Caspian Sturgeon living in the deepest sections of the Caspian and Black Sea are most renowned for their Caviar, living at depths close to 1000 meters in the former and up to three times that depth in the latter, where the water is colder and pressure greater.

These top-3 Sturgeon species have also been crossbred with each other and other species in the search for earlier maturing breeds and to produce alternative experiences. For example, Platinum Caviar is the result of crossbreeding gueldenstaedtii (Russian Sturgeon) with Acipenser baerrii (Siberia).

Top Far East and China Sturgeons and Caviars

Amur Sturgeons (Huso dauricus/Acipenser schrenckii) (King of Siberian /Far East Caviars)
Kaluga (H. dauricus) is Amur River’s largest Sturgeon, source of Kaluga Queen Caviar and found in the lower reaches of the river shared between China and Russia. It is of the order of Acipenseriformes in the family of Acipenseridae of the Genus Huso and dauricus specie. It is a close relative of Beluga’s Sturgeon, Huso Huso, and its eggs (Kaluga Caviar/Kaluga Queen) are similar to Beluga Caviar, large in size with a rich creamy texture and buttery flavor. In fact, its eggs are considered the best alternative to Beluga Caviar. Its color runs various shades of dark to light browns. It can weigh up to a ton, live 20-30 years, and reach a length of 5.5 meters.

The other similar Amur River Sturgeon is the Japanese or Amur Sturgeon (A. schrenckii), which although absent in Japan, is purported to also be found in the Sea of Japan. The Japanese Sturgeon is benthic, which means that it is denser than water and can sit at the bottom of a body of water, surprising its prey.

Imperial Caviar is the fruit of the joining of Huso dauricus with Acipenser schrenckii, or Amur/Japanese Sturgeons.

The average price of Kaluga Caviar is $5000-$8000/kg.
The average price of Imperial Caviar is $4000-$7000/kg.

Caviar Classic offers Kaluga Queen and Imperial Caviars for the enjoyment of our valued customers.

Chinese Sturgeon (China’s National Treasure)
(Acipenser sinensis), lives in the freshwater Yangtze, Qiantang, Minjiang, and Pearl River, as well as southeastern coastal waters off China. It can reach a length of 2.5-5 meters, a maximum weight of 150-700 kilos, and 25-50 years of age. Females mature at 14. Out of all Sturgeon species, Chinese Sturgeon’s natural habitat covers the lowest latitudes of the northern hemisphere, making it the most southerly of its kind. The Chinese Sturgeon is called a “national treasure” and has been a favorite of Chinese cuisine for the past 1200 years, mainly for its meat, serving as a main staple in much of the river basin regions in such dishes as the famous “fried sturgeon”. A fishing ban and breeding program has been put in place since the 1980s in order to save this valued resource.

Siberian Sturgeon
(Acipenser baerii), its natural habitat is in Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the oldest, largest and one of the cleanest freshwater lakes in the world (until recently), dating its genesis back 25 million years. This specie can grow to a maximum length of 2 meters and weight of 200kg, but average 20-65kg. It is semi-anadromous, meaning they spend most of their lives in freshwater areas such as Lake Baikal and at middle and downstream sections of rivers and brackish bays of the Arctic Ocean. Females reach full reproductive maturity at 18-20 years of age, but at 12 in some river basins. Its Caviar is similar to Oscietra in size, texture and flavor, but similar in color to Sevruga Caviar. It has an earthy taste with hints of sweetness and a buttery texture.

The average price of Siberian baerii Caviar is $1500-$2500/kg.

Sakhalin Sturgeon
(Acipenser mikadoi), native to waterways of the regions in and off the coast of Japan, Russia and North Korea, where these 3 countries’ borders meet. In the wild, where Sturgeon grows to their fullest if unmolested for the length of their lives, this specie can grow up to 150 kilos and 2.5 meters in its short lifespan of 20 years, compared to other species that can live much longer.

Top North American Species & Caviars (and other things called ``Caviar`` in America)

The US/Canada are home to eight species of Sturgeon. Lake Sturgeons of the Great Lakes Region, the White and Green Sturgeons of the Pacific Coast, and the Shortnose and Shovelnose Sturgeons, are best known.

American Caviar is the nomenclature for eggs harvested from the hackleback or shovelnose Sturgeons, which are found in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River/tributaries.

White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), tops Sturgeon species in North America and is farmed in California as North America’s utmost premium Caviar. Its eggs are most akin to Oscietra in size, with a buttery texture, and nutty, smooth and robust taste, but more similar to Sevruga in color, being glossy shades of black. (This is the king of American Caviars)

The average price of White Sturgeon Caviar is $1500-2500/kg.

Green Sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris), living from Alaska to Baja California on the Pacific Coast of North America, is the only other Sturgeon of this region besides White Sturgeon and just like it, it is anadromous, living in both freshwater and seawater. It can grow 1.3-1.9 meters, up to 150 kilos, and live 60-70 years.

Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus), lives off the eastern coast of the US, from Maine to Florida, but is anadromous. They are slow-growing and late-maturing, can reach up to 4 meters in length and 350 kilos, living up to 60 years. Although this Sturgeon has been under extreme pressure in the past century, yet it is not in such a dire straits as most other Sturgeon species worldwide. Out of the 38 historical spawning rivers, spawning still occurs in 22 from Canada to Florida.

Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum), lives as the Atlantic Sturgeon does in the same geographical territorial waterways, both fresh and salt, but unlike Atlantic Sturgeon it tends to hug the shores and spend most of its life in rivers and tributaries. They are also relatively smaller, at 1.3 meters and 22 kilos, and can live up to 70 years old, although on average they live half as long. Like most other Sturgeon species, the shortnose has protected status, yet the main obstacle to its recovery has been continued growing threats to its river habitat in the 20th Century, from hydropower to nuclear and sewage, dredging, water withdrawals and run-offs from factories, which also has her listed as “in danger of extinction”.

Gulf Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi), is a subspecies of Atlantic Sturgeon found in lake and river systems of Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. As with most other Sturgeon, it is anadromous of the type that spends the main part of its life in saltwater/open-seas and returns to freshwater for spawning. They live 20-25 years on average but some can live up to 60 years old. Their length can measure 1.8-2.5 meters at 90 kilograms.

Top EU Sturgeons

A number of species from the Acipenseridae family are native to Europe and they have been endangered, same as their Caspian cousins, not just due to overfishing and pollution, but also to dam constructions and lack of a general plan to protect them in past centuries. Some of the more popular are the Adriatic Sturgeon, Common Sturgeon, and 6 Danube Sturgeons which are native to the Black Sea. There have been plans put in place to restock some of the species most in danger and even reintroduce Caspian Sturgeons to the Black Sea.

Adriatic Sturgeon (Acipenser naccarii), was once found in abundance in the Adriatic Sea and off the coast of Spain and Po River in Italy. Population size has declined by over 80%, like most other Sturgeon species worldwide, as last known natural spawning occurred in the early 1980s. It is a comparably smaller Sturgeon with a top length of 1.8 meters and weight of 25 kilos, but with a midrange lifespan of 50 year. Its Caviar is dark black and small.

European Sturgeon (Acipenser sturio), is found in southwestern France and western Georgia. It can grow as large as a ton with a length of 6 meters and live as long as half a century.

Fugazi Caviars

There is also a world of Caviar substitutes derived from other non-Sturgeon and even non-fish sources, which try to simulate the taste and even look of Caviar, but could cost as little as $100-$250 a kilo. One of these methods (unCaviar?), unethical at best, is the process of “spherification”, the method of “creating” “Caviar”, utilizing sodium alginate and calcium chloride or calcium gluconate lactate to form slimy spheres just like real roes. These methods are highly unethical unless explicitly sold as such for those consumers who choose to purchase them. Instead, here we shall briefly brush over a number of non-Sturgeon fish roe, which due to historic usage are referred to as Caviar in the US, having their own use in local cooking, even though according to international law they are not considered Caviar. Neither are they considered Caviar by the law of the mouth, but we shall oblige for the sake of comprehensiveness.

Nevertheless, as they say, “You get what you pay for”, and this is just as true for fish eggs as for anything else. The richness and range of taste of real Sturgeon eggs cannot be duplicated by non-specie fish, just as imitation saffron does not have the depth and range of fruity scent and taste of real saffron, the highest form of culinary flower, as Sturgeon is to the fish world.

Just a Few of Those Non-Sturgeon American “Caviars”
Here is a list of more popular imitation Caviars found in the US:
A non-Sturgeon species, the American Paddlefish produces perhaps the closest Caviar substitute in natural fish eggs. This non-Sturgeon usurper is native to the central territories of the US/Canada and farmed in states like Oklahoma. The average price of paddlefish imitation Caviar runs from $250-$750/kg.

In the same length and breathe, American Golden “Caviar”, from the Great Lakes’ Whitefish (not White Sturgeon) is another quality roe of non-Sturgeon type. Its roes are firm, small in size and yellowish in color. It does not melt in your mouth as proper Caviar should and it is rather crispy and crunchy in texture with a mild subtle flavor.

American Black Caviar is the cheap version of this group of non-Sturgeon Caviar, black roes dyed with food coloring, which comes from North/Baltic Sea Lumpfish and US Bowfin, referred to as Bowfin Caviar as well. This fish is native to the Southern US and used in Cajun cooking. It has a thick earthy tangy/spicy flavor with firm shiny eggs.

Hackleback “Caviar” is the roe of Shovelnose fish, a freshwater fish living in Central US and Canada. Its imitation Caviar has a mild flavor with small roes. The average price of Hackleback imitation Caviar runs from $500-$1000/kg.

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