How Long Does Caviar Last?

Caviar is a delicacy comprised of salted fish eggs, typically from sturgeon. This luxurious food has a refined, salty, and creamy flavor and unique texture. However, caviar is a highly perishable item that requires careful storage and handling. Here is a comprehensive guide to maximizing the shelf life of different types of caviar.

caviar shelf life

What is Caviar?

Caviar refers to salted roe (fish eggs) from various species of sturgeon and other fish. The two main types of caviar come from beluga sturgeon that swim in the Caspian Sea between Russia and Iran, and Ossetra sturgeon found in the Black and Caspian Seas. Caviar is valued for its smooth, creamy texture that pops gently when chewed, releasing a rich and salty seafood flavor.

The three most prized types of caviar are beluga, osetra, and sevruga. Beluga caviar has a pale gray color, mild flavor, and large pearls. The medium-sized grains of osetra caviar range from dark brown to golden brown. Small-grained sevruga caviar features a distinctive black color. Other popular caviars include salmon roe, tobiko (flying fish roe), masago (capelin roe), lumpfish, paddlefish, white sturgeon, hackleback sturgeon, bowfin, and trout roe.

Due to habitat loss and overfishing, true beluga caviar is extremely rare and expensive. Cheaper alternatives have a similar appearance and flavor but come from other sturgeon species like Kaluga, American osetra, Siberian sturgeon, and hybrids.

Refrigeration Guidelines

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), unopened caviar stored in the refrigerator remains fresh for up to 4 weeks from the processing date. Keep the temperature between 32-40°F. The International Caviar Association (ICA) recommends refrigerating caviar for no more than 3 months.

Once opened, caviar will only keep for 2-3 days, advises the ICA. The FDA warns against eating caviar left sitting out for over 2 hours. Temperatures over 40°F allow bacteria to multiply rapidly. Discard any caviar with an off odor, flavor, or appearance.

Beluga caviar has the shortest shelf life, lasting up to 2 weeks refrigerated, says Caviar Direct. Osetra caviar keeps slightly longer, around 3 weeks according to Caviarteria. Sevruga caviar has the longest shelf life at 4 weeks refrigerated, per Caviar World.

Pasteurized caviar lasts up to 6 weeks refrigerated, longer than unpasteurized. But pasteurization can diminish flavor. Some brands flash pasteurize lightly to preserve freshness. Store caviar on the bottom shelf, as temperature fluctuates more at the top. The ideal temperature range is 36-40°F.

Freezing Guidelines

The USDA approves freezing unopened caviar for up to 3 months to pause the clock on shelf life. The ICA suggests consuming frozen caviar within 1 month for best quality. Caviar can safely be frozen for long-term storage, but its delicate texture deteriorates.

Thaw caviar overnight in the fridge. Serve within 24 hours for premium quality. Do not refreeze caviar after thawing. Freezing causes ice crystals to puncture egg membranes, mixing juices and changing the mouthfeel.

Avoid freezing in plastic containers, advises Petrossian, as plastic can absorb flavors from the caviar. Opt for glass jars or metal tins. Squeeze out air before sealing to prevent freezer burn. Freeze caviar in small portions to avoid waste.

Unopened vs. Opened Caviar Shelf Life

Unopened caviar lasts significantly longer than opened caviar due to lack of oxygen exposure. The ICA reports that unopened pasteurized caviar has a 6-month shelf life from processing at 36°F to 40°F. Severe quality loss occurs after 9 months.

Once opened, caviar rapidly deteriorates within 48 hours. Only keep refrigerated opened caviar for up to 3 days. Reseal containers tightly between uses. Never leave caviar sitting out at room temperature over 2 hours before refrigerating again.

Proper Handling Precautions

Caviar easily absorbs odors and flavors. The ICA stresses the importance of storing caviar away from foods with strong odors like seafood, onions, eggs, cheese, etc.

Marky’s Caviar recommends always using glass, acrylic, mother of pearl, or stainless steel serving utensils. Metal utensils can damage the delicate caviar beads. Caviar Lovers suggests porcelain, stoneware, or bone spoons.

Only open caviar containers right before serving. Do not mix caviar types, as this dilutes their distinct flavors. Always use a clean spoon when sampling caviar, to prevent contamination between types.

How to Determine if Caviar Has Gone Bad

Smell: Fresh caviar has a clean sea breeze aroma, reminiscent of the ocean. Caviar past its prime develops a fishy, ammonia-like, or rotten odor.

Appearance: Fresh caviar pearls have a shiny, glistening surface. They hold their shape well. Old caviar looks dull, mushy, and flat.

Taste: The taste test can verify spoilage. Do not sample if the smell is off. Discard any caviar with a slimy, mushy mouthfeel or sour, bitter taste. Rancid caviar irritates the throat.

Shelf Life Varies By Type of Caviar

The shelf life of caviar depends on the type of fish, processing, and whether farm-raised or wild-caught. Here are general guidelines for storing different caviar varieties:

Beluga Caviar

True beluga caviar has the shortest shelf life, around 2 weeks refrigerated. The large, pale gray pearls are extremely delicate. Beluga should be consumed quickly for the best experience.

Osetra Caviar

This medium-sized, brown caviar keeps slightly longer than beluga, for 2-3 weeks refrigerated. Osetra is less susceptible to quality decline than beluga.

Sevruga Caviar

Tiny black sevruga beads have the longest shelf life at 4 weeks refrigerated. Sevruga is a great option when you need caviar with better keeping qualities.

Salmon Roe

Bright orange salmon roe lasts 2 weeks refrigerated or 2 months frozen.Ikura salmon eggs are even shorter lived at 5-7 days refrigerated.

Lumpfish Caviar

Farm-raised lumpfish caviar has a 4-6 week shelf life refrigerated or 4-12 months frozen. Its small pearls lack delicacy but the price is a bargain.

Paddlefish Caviar

American paddlefish caviar stays fresh for 2 weeks refrigerated or 6 months frozen. It resembles sevruga and osetra but costs much less.

Hackleback Caviar

The delicate eggs of Tennessee hackleback sturgeon last around 2-3 weeks refrigerated. Handle carefully like beluga to maximize shelf life.

White Sturgeon Caviar

California white sturgeon caviar keeps for 4 weeks refrigerated and 4 months frozen. The large black beads have a great mouthfeel.

Bowfin Caviar

Salty choupique or bowfin caviar has a shelf life of 4 weeks refrigerated or 4 months frozen. The eggs are very small and pop nicely.

Trout Caviar

Trout caviar lasts for 4 weeks refrigerated and 6 months frozen. Look for trout farmed in pristine conditions for premium quality and flavor.

Extending Caviar Shelf Life

Propperly stored in its sealed tin, top quality caviar will retain maximum freshness for its recommended refrigerated shelf life. But you can gain an extra few days by:

  • Storing opened caviar tins upside down to keep air away from the surface of the eggs.
  • Placing plastic wrap directly on the surface of the caviar before sealing the lid to help prevent oxidation.
  • Purchasing caviar in small tins to avoid having leftovers sit too long.
  • Enjoying caviar within 1 month of freezing for best texture.

Avoid these common caviar storage mistakes:

  • Leaving caviar out of refrigeration for over 2 hours
  • Refreezing thawed caviar, damaging the delicate beads
  • Storing in plastic containers that leech flavors into the caviar

Risks of Consuming Expired Caviar

Eating spoiled, old caviar can cause foodborne illness. Bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli proliferate as caviar deteriorates. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headache, and body aches. In rare cases infection is severe enough to require hospitalization.

Pregnant women run a high risk of miscarriage and stillbirth from Listeria in rancid, unpasteurized caviar. Weakened immune systems also react poorly. Caviar is a perishable product, so err on the side of caution and throw out any past the recommended shelf life.

Wild vs Farmed Caviar Shelf Life

Wild caviar generally has a shorter shelf life than sustainable farmed caviar. Wild sturgeon mature slowly and are harvested at advanced ages like 15-20 years old. Older fish produce more delicate eggs with thinner membranes. Handling can cause irregularities in the bead shape and texture.

In aquaculture facilities, sturgeon are harvested for caviar between 5-7 years old. The eggs are very fresh and robust. Gentle mechanical harvesting minimizes flaws from handling. Farm-raised caviar tolerates refrigeration and freezing better thanks to the eggs’ youth and vitality.

Serving Caviar

Caviar is at its best when served fresh and properly chilled. According to Caviar King, caviar should be served between 41°F and 45°F for ideal enjoyment of its taste and texture. Remove caviar from refrigeration about 15 minutes before serving to take off the chill. Do not serve caviar at room temperature.

Serve caviar in a glass, mother of pearl, or bone dish to avoid metal utensil contact. Accompany with toast points, blini pancakes, or buttery boiled potatoes to enjoy every last precious egg. Caviar is excellent accompanied by iced vodka or dry Champagne. Once opened, keep the caviar cool in a bowl over ice and consume within a couple hours for the finest epicurean experience.


Caviar remains exquisitely fresh for 1-4 weeks refrigerated in the unopened container, depending on the variety. Once exposed to air, shelf life sharply decreases to just 2-3 days. Handle caviar gently, serve it chilled, and savor every moment of this luxurious gustatory delight. With proper care in storing and serving, you can fully appreciate and enjoy caviar’s elegant flavor, luscious mouthfeel, and status as the champagne of seafood.