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Can Roe be considered Vegetarian?

I know chicken eggs are considered vegetarian, but not vegan. What about the different kinds of fish roe?
Any opinions? (I'm trying to figure this out for myself)
Any insights on the process of obtaining roe?


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  1. 1st I've thought about it. I would think it depends on the method of extraction. If the fish dies to be able to obtain the roe then I'd think not. If there is a way to remove the roe with out killing the fish then you seem to be in line with chicken egg logic. No idea if this is possible though!

    1 Reply
    1. re: meatn3

      That's assuming that the individual's rationale for being a vegetarian is animal-friendliness, as opposed to dietary preference. The former, for example, would preclude wearing leather, while the latter might or might not. Same principle here.

    2. I think you can safely assume that "many fish were harmed in the production of" edible fish roe, certainly the commercial stuff... and I doubt many amateurs do abdominal surgery on their fish to remove the egg sacs intact. ;)

      3 Replies
      1. re: MikeG

        Not to mention, I can't recall any underwater surgical facilities that specialize in delicate egg sac removal procedures.

        1. re: MikeG

          If you use the criteria of "harm to animals" to determine if something is vegetarian, than most of the egg & dairy industry would be classified as producing non-vegetarian prodocts. Perhaps you are more barking up the tree of "cruelty-free".

          1. re: Leonardo

            That was a somewhat dated pop culture reference, I thought it was clear I was being mildly sarcastic and in context, also clear that fish are not simply "mistreated" for their roe, they are gutted. As in killed, gutted, and mostly, at least in mitagation, the flesh eaten. I thought that was clear by the reference to imaginary surgery to remove intact egg sacs. Fish are not chickens, one does not "harvest" the eggs after expulsion from the fish, one removes the intact sacs. Which are only accessible INSIDE the fish...

            Your allusion would be more applicable to something like stone crabs, whose claws (one of 'em only, legally) are broken off and the crab thrown back where the claw eventually grows back. They survive and I suppose they're better off alive than dead, but I dare so they might not be amused if they understood what was happening to them....

        2. roe = fish, so no, not vegetarian

          1 Reply
          1. re: pescatarian

            That makes no sense. Ovo-lacto vegetarians do not consider chicken eggs to be meat, so why would fish eggs equal fish? Fishy, certainly. Fishoid, perhaps. But fish per se, not so much.

          2. Eggs are eggs. So, I believe that "lacto-ovo-Vegetarians" can eat them, but "Traditional" Vegetarians can not. However, Vegans would absolutely not be able to eat them.

            Ian Lewis

            8 Replies
            1. re: DougRisk

              Eggs are certainly not a vegetable, but if they're unfertilized, they certainly aren't meat. For what it's worth, when vegetarians started becoming more visible (and ready guests at the table) in the late 80s and early 90s, I remember that eggs were often served as the protein.

              1. re: DougRisk

                If "vegetarians" couldn't eat eggs and dairy, then why would we need a separate word for "vegans"?

                1. re: danna

                  I always thought that Dairy was OK for Vegetarians, but Eggs were not. I didn't realize that Eggs were part of the basic Vegetarian diet.

                  1. re: DougRisk

                    Hey, don't quote me...I may be confused. ;-)

                    1. re: danna

                      Well, now that I think about it, a friend of mine is Vegetarian and he eats eggs. That does not make it absoluteley correct, but it certianly is one more piece of evidence.

                      1. re: DougRisk

                        My vegetarian friends all eat eggs - on the premise that the hen is not killed to obtain the eggs.

                    2. re: DougRisk

                      Since all of it is about personal choice anyhow, seems like whatever someone wanted to eat or not eat would work for them. I think eggs are basically generally accepted by most people who call themselves vegetarian, but that's just a personal impression from the people I know who call themselves vegetarian.

                      1. re: DougRisk

                        Etymologically vegetarian means eats only vegetables. So many people did not add the ovo-lacto part that the term became confusing and eventually vegetarian came to mean Ovo-lacot-vegetarian (and occasionally the infuriating pesca-avio-ovo-lacto-vegetarian). Those who wanted a true vegetarian lifestyle therfore had to invent a new word to differentiate themselves from those "I'm a vegetarian but I eat cheese, sushi and bacon" crowd.

                        Anyway, a vegetarian could not eat roe and even an ovo-lacto-vegetarian would be hard presses to explain why they eat it. Just think, would a vegetarian eat those fabulously tasty immature eggs from a freshly slaughtered hen?

                  2. I originally responded on an "is it possible" note using the lacto-ovo method of logic. After working in natural foods industry for many years I certainly am not trying to provide a definition of what vegetarian means. There are as many answers as there are practitioners.:)

                    However, I was fairly sure I had come across info that indicated that it could be done. Whether it can be done in a way business would find commercially viable is a whole nother kettle of worms (live ones only!)...

                    For more info go to www.sturgeonaquafarms.com then click on press room, then find article from Slate "how do they harvest caviar, they suck it through a straw".

                    1. You ask is it possible to be considered a vegetarian and eat fish eggs? Sure it is. I know people who self-identify as vegetarian who eat fish -- any fish. I would call them pescatarians. They might identify as that if asked more closely. But, they also identify as vegetarians when first asked.

                      1. In the interest of communication and clarity, I strongly feel that the only real vegetarians arre vegans.

                        Others modifiy the diet. Not that I have a problem with that; it's just too confusing otherwise. I was an an "ovo-lacto" vegetarian for years and always used that term.

                        It gets silly sometimes, usually in the interest of simply saving a couple of words. People who eat fish (there's the roe) calling themselves vegetarian? Come on. (Not that I'm frustrated with you - hey, you're asking!) But if someone cals themself a vegetarian with no modifiers but, for example, eat the occasional hamburger -- he or she is * not* vegetarian. Perhaps they mostly eat a vegetarian diet, but how are we to figure that they will eat meat if they don't tell you? Why not say: "I mostly eat a vegetarian diet but will occasionally eat meat."?

                        Nomenclature of this sort needs to be clear if *anything* is riding on it. For example,someone who eats Halal is usually satisfied with Kosher foods, but there is difference. If they are not,so satisfied and it becomes an applicable piece of knowledge, they should let it be known.

                        1. Thanks for this post - I'm finding the replies fascinating.

                          My husband (a decidedly UN-vegetarian sort) woke up last week and said "I think we should be vegetarian this week." And so we are. This week. Until he finds out that, as Richard points out above, vegetarians don't eat the occasional steak!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: laurendlewis

                            actually, there's a new term for people who occasionally indulge in meat, but try to eat a mostly vegetarian diet...flexitarian.

                            no joke.

                            maybe your hubby will be ok with that...? :)

                          2. I guess I come from the If-it-has-a-face-it's-not-vegetarian school of vegetarianism. Narytheless, I would consider roe to be akin to eating a part of an animal because -as has been pointed out here previously - something with a face was killed to obtain it.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: MollyGee

                              I saw a bumper sticker last week to that effect...the face thing. I spent the next few minutes contemplating what delicious things have no faces. Oysters were the first thing to come to mind. But I got bogged down in the definition of face. Do shrimp and lobsters and squid have faces? If not, I think I could be reasonably happy as your variety of veg.

                              1. re: danna

                                I'd say that, yes, shrimp, lobster and squid have faces. They have some sort of mouth, right? And they have eyes.

                                Maybe I should change my definition to include things that have some form of nervous system.

                                In that case, sorry, you'd be potentially unhappy w/ my variety of vegetarianism.

                              2. re: MollyGee

                                Dairy cows aren't killed for their milk, but their male offspring are usually either slaughtered or sold to the veal market. So, technically, something with a face is killed to obtain milk.

                                Pete Singer says that eating scallops, clams and oysters is ethical because they don't have a central nervous system.

                                I eat sustainable and humane meat because I don't support the extinction of domesticated animal species.

                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                  i'm certain the beef, chicken and pork industries will not allow those animals to become extinct.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    BigMeat is only interested in maintaining a few, select species of animals which are well suited for industrial production. Without ethical ranching, heirloom breeds such as the Bourbon Red turkey, Red Wattle pig, Tunis sheep and Barred-Plymouth Rock chicken would become extinct. Heritage Foods USA is dedicated to preserving these animals, and has helped to bring several species off of the conservation "watch" list. Their motto: "You have to eat the animals to save them!"

                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                      thanks for fleshing that out. ;)

                                      sorry, i misunderstood your intent.

                              3. I was a vegetarian for 20+ years and consumed eggs and dairy. I was a vegan for just over a year (now THAT was a tough gig!) and did without eggs, dairy, honey, all animal products. I would say that roe is not vegetarian because the fish is usually killed to obtain the eggs, but it's hard to call. A chicken (who certainly doesn't have the best quality of life, unless free-range) isn't killed for her eggs, so I was able to justify to myself consuming eggs.

                                Just my 2 cents worth on the matter.

                                Oh, and people who say they are vegetarian but who eat chicken and fish are NOT vegetarians!

                                1. Depends on the reason for being vegetarian. If they're veggie simply because they don't like meat (and I know a few of those, personally), the roe might be okay. If they're vegetarian because they're opposed to any food that requires harm/death to an animal, then roe is definitely a no-no.

                                  One of my vegetarian friends goes the cruelty-free route for religious reasons - therefore, he will eat cheese, so long as it hasn't been made from rennet. This is because rennet is derived from animal stomachs (which obviously can't be obtained without harming the animal), whilst the milk itself is "safe" from his point of view. Using that logic, he certainly wouldn't touch roe with a ten-foot pole.

                                  1. As some have stated, there are many kinds of vegetarians. Some only eat "meat" in the form of fish, others only in the form of eggs. Stricly speaking, that isn't truely being a vegetarian, but it get complicated saying thinks like "I don't eat meat unless it is fish or fowl and I don't eat eggs unless they are from cage free chickens and I don't eat any vegetable from this country because of their human rights abuses . . .", so some people just say "I'm vegetarian." If you are cooking for someone else, I would ask if they are strict veg or eat fish or . . .?

                                    1. http://www.chow.com/stories/10125

                                      A funny little story on this topic..

                                      If I was to "turn", I'd def be ba curious!!

                                      So, I am guessing, under the rule "Nothing had to die to provide it", then placenta is vegetarian??

                                      1. Well, it seems to me that a fish, and therefore fish products, fall emphatically into the "animal" kingdom - hence not vegetable. Yes, I know about lacto-ovo whatever, but the word IS "vegetarian" which does really suggest eating that which is of the plant kingdom.
                                        Personally, I'll take the rare 10-oz filet on the bone, but also the fried potatoes and creamed spinach...