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Today, we’re going to explore whether or not caviar can hatch, making for an unpleasant surprise part-way through your delicious appetizer.
So can caviar hatch? No, caviar does not hatch because the eggs aren’t ovulated or fertilized. This is because of the way the eggs are farmed, as they are not naturally expelled by the female sturgeon.
For a better idea of why caviar typically doesn’t hatch, we’ll have to describe how this delicacy is farmed.
Fish reproduce very differently than most mammals, with female fish dropping eggs (ovulating), and the male sturgeon coming along and fertilizing them afterward.
Fertilized or even ovulated eggs cannot be turned into edible caviar because the minute the eggs are ovulated, they lose much of their external protective membrane. This membrane is responsible for caviar’s trademark texture, and without it, a tin of caviar would be a pile of mush.
Even though ovulated caviar probably wouldn’t make you sick, it wouldn’t exactly be anyone’s snack of choice, especially for the prices that high-end caviar is often sold for.
Getting back to our point, if the eggs aren’t ovulated, they can’t be fertilized, and if the eggs aren’t fertilized, then they can’t hatch because they haven’t been inseminated by a male sturgeon.
Since the idea of little fish hatching in your stomach is understandably a terrifying one, some diners have reservations about eating caviar. Here are some common concerns:
It’s pretty easy to tell if caviar’s been fertilized or not because of the way that caviar is most frequently farmed, unfortunately killing the fish in the process.
Mature female sturgeon start growing the caviar in their ovaries before spawning season, and caviar farmers wait until they’re filled with the eggs before cutting them open and removing the ovaries.
Before this happens, there is no chance for a male fish to fertilize the eggs, so the chance of you being sold fertilized caviar that has been farmed in the traditional method is close to none.
That being said, certain no-kill caviar has started being developed from ovulated eggs, meaning that they have been dropped by the mother but not fertilized by a male. Since these eggs are usually far too mushy, caviar farmers have developed a method of rebuilding the exterior membrane of the eggs.
While this is a relatively novel process, there’s still a very low chance that you’ll end up eating fertilized eggs because the caviar is kept away from the male sturgeon after being spawned.
Due to the impact that caviar farming and other factors have had on the population of sturgeon worldwide, caviar farmers traffic in fertilized sturgeon eggs quite frequently.
Thankfully, there’s very little chance that you’ll end up with fertilized eggs in your hands because these are sold for a very specialized purpose: breeding.
Sturgeon breeding is a big business, and breeders can make a lot more money from the people that are creating edible caviar by fostering good business relationships with them.
This is why they have no reason to turn around and sell fertilized caviar for human consumption. Not to mention that nobody will buy it because of the mushy texture.
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There are 27 species of sturgeon worldwide, and 85% of them are endangered to some extent. This is an unfortunate byproduct of the high demand that the fish’s eggs have been in for the past few hundred years.
Since the process of caviar farming not only kills sturgeon, but also directly hampers their reproductive process, it means that the species becoming endangered is something of an inevitability.
This is especially true if caviar farmers keep using the simpler and more economically effective method of kill farming.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for sturgeon populations, as promising new methods of harvesting caviar without killing the fish are becoming more and more feasible and effective.
What remains to be seen is whether or not diners will be willing to pay a premium on top of the already-high price of caviar for the peace of mind that their food is not endangering another species.
Another one of the reasons why sturgeon are becoming endangered is because their eggs require surprisingly strict conditions to hatch properly. If caviar farmers don’t handle the eggs with care, then they run the risk of losing their entire stocks of precious sturgeon that will then have to be painstakingly rebuilt.
For example, when caviar farms bring in new batches of eggs to replenish their stocks of fish, the typical success rate is between 50% and 60%. Some advanced farms in the middle east have been able to raise their success rate to about 80%, but this is under extremely specific conditions.
Sturgeon eggs usually take between one week and ten days to hatch. The fish must then be kept in a separate hatchery for eight months until they’re capable of living in a larger fish tank. At that point, they will keep growing until they are ready to be harvested.
The female fish with particularly large ovaries are marked out for caviar production and those with small ovaries are either used for breeding or sold for meat, much like the male fish. This is only one of the things that makes caviar one of the world’s most expensive foods.