Where Does Caviar Come From?

Are you halfway through your tin and wondering how the caviar was sourced? Today, we’re going to take a look at where caviar comes from.

So where does caviar come from? Caviar comes from the eggs of a fish. The most common types of fish are sturgeon and salmon, but caviar can come from other species as well such as trout, whitefish and grayling.

Can You Buy Beluga Caviar in the USA?

Caviar has been considered to be an elegant dish for centuries in many different cultures and countries around the world.

What fish does caviar come from? Caviar comes from the eggs of a female sturgeon fish. The most common types of sturgeon fish used for caviar are Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga.

We’re going to take a closer look at the caviar farming process, and we’ll also discuss some of the methods that are used to keep the fish alive while harvesting their eggs.

How Caviar is Farmed

When a fish is ripe (meaning that the eggs are ready to be harvested), it is kept in very cold and clean water for a few weeks. During this time, food is withheld from the fish to ensure that it doesn’t taint the flavor of the eggs.

Once the sturgeon has been prepared to be harvested, they are taken out of the water and an incision is made in their bellies (which they do not survive). Through this incision, the ovaries are removed from the fish so that the farmers can harvest the eggs. Some ovaries may contain up to one million eggs.

At this point, the ovaries have the eggs removed from them with the help of a fine mesh. This helps get through the membrane that holds the eggs to the ovary. Once it is farmed, caviar cannot be stored at room temperature unless it is pasteurized.

Do Sturgeon Need to be Killed to Farm Caviar?

Yes, sturgeon are typically killed so that caviar can be farmed. While there are some methods that are used to extract caviar from sturgeon without killing them, these take a lot of effort and are very rarely used to farm caviar.

Are Sturgeon Killed for Caviar?

Harvesting caviar is a difficult job, and that leads to the incredibly high prices that you’ll see some types of caviar sold for. For example, beluga caviar can go for as much as $10,000 per kilo.

This is because most caviar comes from sturgeon that have been tended to for about a decade before they’re harvested. Another issue is that improper handling of caviar during the farming process can potentially make customers sick.

Early on in their lives, around the age of three years old, sturgeon are examined using ultrasound. This is necessary because it’s not possible to determine the sex of a sturgeon from the outside.

Female sturgeon with large ovaries are marked as prime candidates for caviar farming, while male fish and females with smaller ovaries are typically marked for the sale of their meat. This is because it wouldn’t be economically feasible to farm caviar from a fish with smaller ovaries.

Even when the fish have large enough ovaries, there’s no guarantee that the caviar will be of the best possible quality. Good caviar needs to be relatively uniform and it shouldn’t have a milky white color, because that means that they aren’t mature enough.

Thankfully, testing eggs is accomplished without killing the sturgeon that is holding them. Farmers make a small incision in the fish’s belly and use a straw to pull out a few of their eggs to see whether or not they’re ready to be harvested. 

Fish worth farming for caviarFish that are farmed for meat
Female sturgeon with large ovariesMale sturgeon
 Female sturgeon with small ovaries

Can Caviar Be Farmed Without Killing the Fish?

We have a whole article about the no-kill methods that are used to farm caviar, but we’ll sum up some of the techniques here, as well.

Most no-kill methods consist of surgically removing eggs from the sturgeon’s ovaries without removing the ovaries themselves. Along with making caviar farming less of a drain on the worldwide sturgeon population, this also means that the fish can be farmed once again later on.

The process used to remove caviar from a sturgeon without killing it is similar to a c-section. However, unlike a c-section for a human, there are no babies to remove from a sturgeon, but rather the eggs themselves. Since the eggs have to be cut out, the sturgeon will have to spend some time healing after the procedure.

This isn’t the only method that caviar farmers have used to get eggs out of sturgeon without killing them. Some Russian farmers have developed ways to induce ovulation in fish, which normally destroys the outer membrane of the caviar, reducing its quality (find out more in our guide about caviar egg fertilization).

After the fish has spawned the eggs, the farmers use an experimental process to rebuild the outer membrane of the eggs, restoring their original texture and making them worth selling once again.

Interested to know more about Caviar? Read Also :

Does Black Caviar Expire?
Does Canned Caviar Need To Be Refrigerated?
Do They Put Caviar On Sushi?
Do Salmon Produce Caviar?
Do Beluga Whales Produce Caviar?

Are Sturgeon Endangered?

Sturgeon have survived for hundreds of millions of years, and they once roamed through the water in the time of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, caviar farming is taking a heavy toll on the species’ population numbers, with around 85% of the world’s current species at risk of extinction.

The IUCN’s red list (which catalogs endangered species) has found that 18 of the world’s sturgeon species are threatened. Even worse, 63% of the 27 sturgeon species that are currently known are critically endangered, meaning that they’re teetering on the brink of extinction.

Even beluga sturgeon, which are world-renowned for their beluga caviar (the most expensive caviar in the world) are now endangered. 

Along with diminishing population numbers for these fish species, the endangered status of sturgeon has impacted the caviar industry, as more regulations are put in place to cut down on the killing of the fish.

For example, the United States has instituted a ban on the importation of beluga caviar to help curtail the demand for the food. This is a move that the USA hopes will help cut back on the number of fish that are being killed for their caviar each year.