Types of Caviar
When you shop for caviar it is important to understand the types of caviar that is available, and to decide on which variety or type that will best complement your taste, what will accompany the caviar, and/or the recipe you plan to use the caviar.
Most caviar is packed and shipped in tins, and although you can purchase fresh caviar, keep in mind that the term fresh is subjective because any quality caviar is aged in brine for anywhere between 1-4 weeks (or longer). In addition, the eggs from any fish is for the most part flavorless, and it is through the brine-soaking and salting that gives the roe its overall taste and flavor, as well as to preserve it as well.
The types of Caviar
There are many types and varieties of caviar, those derived from the Acipenseridae family (most commonly known as sturgeon), and those that do not.
Beluga: From the Sturgeon family, Beluga (from Beluga sturgeon) is considered to be the highest premium grade of caviar available. This caviar has large eggs the size of a pea with a prominent darkened spot (called the eye). The eggs are glossy, soft, and clear and range in colour from faint gray-silver to black. They have a buttery, very-faint ocean taste. Beluga is the most expensive of caviars, largely due to the limited supply placed on their removal from the Caspian Sea: only Beluga sturgeons are allowed to be caught each year.
Osetra: Also, from the Sturgeon family, Osetra (from Russian Sturgeon) caviar has moderate-sized eggs that vary in colour from gray to grayish-green to brown eggs (depending on the maturity of the fish). The caviar has a nutty flavor- although there is an inconsistently in overall flavor based upon what the bottom-feeding Osetra sturgeons eat (what they eat reflects the taste of the eggs they carry).
Sevruga: Also from the Sturgeon family (from Stellate Sturgeon), but with smaller eggs compared to Osetra. Sevruga has a salty rich flavor (the strongest of the caviars- most likely due to the smaller egg size (smaller eggs increases the amount of eggs per spoonful- hence the saltier richer taste as compared to Beluga for example (much larger eggs). The eggs are gray in colour, and because the Stellate Sturgeon is abundant, Sevruga is much less expensive to both Beluga and Osetra caviars.
Sterlet: Also from the Sturgeon family, all but considered extinct-therefore extremely expensive if you can find any. The eggs are small and golden in colour – said to be the finest caviar ever- was once limited for consumption by only royalty.
Non-sturgeon based Caviars:
Lumpfish: Also, known as lumpsuckers, these fish are found in colder temperature waters in the Atlantic and Pacific, as well in seas around Europe. The lumpfish eggs (known as stenbider or stenbit) are tiny and most often dyed red or black with a creamy, briny flavor.
Paddlefish: The paddlefish (a cousin of the sturgeon), a.k.a. American Caviar is so named because it is commonly found in the Mississippi, as well as in Lake Erie. The eggs range in size from medium-small and are normally gray in colour. From a taste perspective, paddlefish caviar has an earthy, long-lasting, warm flavor (some say it is muddy tasting).
Salmon: Also known as red caviar, because of their orange or deep-red colour, salmon roe are medium sized and is considered to be the best-quality substitute for the high-quality, expensive sturgeon varieties. Salmon roe is extremely popular in Asia (especially Japan) and North America where it is used predominately in the making of sushi.
Tarama: Tarma roe, taken from carp, is orange in colour, with tiny, almost microscopic eggs. As a result, the eggs are often smoked and used as a light and flavorful base to make popular spreads.
Trout: Taken from rainbow trout, the eggs are orange in colour and slightly smaller than typical salmon roe. Trout roe have a mild, slightly salty flavor, and since most trout are farmed, trout caviar is one of the most value-added (taste versus cost) and affordable caviars on the market.
Whitefish: Found in and around the Great Lakes and most northern countries, Whitefish (a.k.a. Golden Whitefish caviar, has small golden-yellow eggs. Whitefish caviar has a subtle taste, and as a result they are versatile for use in most recipes.