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What is good quality caviar supposed to taste like?

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Recently I lived in Sweden and tried their caviar from a tube, and some black caviar from a jar. I disliked both. It felt like I tasting a salt lick, with a very unappetizing fishy taste, and an almost gooey like texture when you bit into it.

I was raised on masago (tiny beaded orange flying fish roe); the ones that you associate with sushi, and they've always had this sweet, mildly savory flavor when they burst in your mouth. I wouldn't describe it as a fishy flavor at all.

Is good, unsalted caviar something similar to what I enjoy?

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  1. it should taste richly buttery and like the sea - like when you inhale the smell of the sea. it's not going to be as "crispy" as masago, they eggs sort of melt in your mouth instead. I haven't even had the best caviar, but to me it's a very sensual taste/smell, not unlike the taste/smell of truffles.

    1. For some reason, I have always liked the Japanese specialties of sea urchin and salmon roe better than any caviar I have ever had. The flavors are cleaner, brisker and more marine-like. Perhaps that was your experience with masago.

      1. The ones you tried sound like inferior 'pressed' caviar. Good caviar should be distinct, firm pearls that pop gently in you mouth. They aren't as crisp a pop as other types of roe. They should be salty and fishy in a good way. Sort of like soft tiny bubbles of salty fishy ocean water, clean tasting, bright flavored. 'Pressed' caviar is from poorly handled roe that is then packed firm and the eggs have popped. Yuck!

        1. The sturgeon eggs should pop in your mouth like little ambrosia-filled balloons, and should not be unpleasantly salted. Of course it is a fishy taste, a grand one.

          1. Fish roe is extremely perishable, and so is often preserved through heavy salting and/or pasteurization. But the best caviar is unprocessed and minimally salted. In fact, it's often labeled "malossol," which is Russian for "little salt." If you have the opportunity, try some; it bears no resemblance to the stuff you've described.

            1. My favorite description of caviar comes from "Auntie Mame": Fishberry Jam!

              1. Extremely delicate, only very delicately "fishy." A breath of the sea, like a good raw oyster but richer. To paraphrase Brillat-Savarin's famous quip about grapes, I characterize good caviar as kind of like lox in pill form.

                Here in the US, classic fresh Caspian malossol (light-salt) caviar was available and merely expensive through the 1990s. Standard retail in California in ounce to few-ounce quantities, if you shopped around rather than going to touristic sources like Petrossian, ran around $10 for Sevruga, small-grained, cheapest and most common of the classic types -- Lufthansa for example used huge tins of it, 500g or so, in its lavish meal service on first-class long-haul flights. Ossetra or Ocscietra, which many experienced people like, also small-grained, was two or three times as expensive and Beluga, rare and prestigious (the one style people have heard of if they've only heard of one type -- like Dom Perignon Champagne, it showed up in James Bond movies for instance) ran more like $50-60 an ounce, a couple dollars a gram.

                About 10 years ago with demand increasing and supplies of the precious fish shrinking, the prices soared (as with truffles).

                FYI, the US Southeast produces some paddlefish etc., related to Sturgeon. These are comparatively abundant, and their fresh eggs while not classic caviar are not that far from it, and vastly less pricey. About 10 years ago an article appeared surveying the various sources, and some friends who are connoisseurs ordered a selection of them by overnight shipment and reported that they were pleasantly surprised at the quality and delighted with the value.

                2 Replies
                1. re: eatzalot

                  Here in Sacramento there are a couple of aquaculture operations raising white sturgeon. The caviar is very similar to Osetra. It's not cheap - $2-3+ per gram - but it's a bit less than the imported stuff, and it's raised sustainably.

                  http://www.sterlingcaviar.com/Sterlin...
                  http://www.tsarnicoulai.com/about_tsa...

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Thanks for the tip, alan. (Though I confess continued sticker shock when even US sturgeon eggs fetch the price the best Caspian Beluga did within recent adult memory!)

                    Some of this is inherent in sturgeon. These impressive creatures can live as long as humans, if they're not caught for their eggs or their meat (among the finest of food fish in my experience) so like trees, they're re-growable but not nearly as fast as they're hunted. I know that sturgeon have also long grown wild in the Sacramento Delta and being so valuable, and so attractive to poachers, brought about stringent official protection. Local stories a few years ago of even very small craft in some of those waters being challenged and inspected for illegal sturgeon fishing.