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Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Caviar may be one of the most beloved delicacies in the world, but is it truly safe to eat? A lot of seafood contains high mercury levels which can make them dangerous for human consumption. Is this something we should worry about when it comes to enjoying our caviar?
Does caviar contain mercury? Yes, you can find mercury in caviar, but that’s not to say it’s dangerous. All seafood has mercury to some extent. The amount of mercury in caviar is small compared to others, to the point that it’s considered one of the safest of all in this regard.
So thankfully you aren’t going to have to swear off your favorite treat. Given the different varieties of caviar, though, is mercury ever a concern? Are there any other heavy metals or contaminants you should worry about? We’ve done all the research so you don’t have to.
It is a well-known fact that mercury, or methylmercury to be more specific, is a major contaminant in seafood. Humans can face several adverse effects from ingesting it, so it’s a good idea to know how much of it is in the stuff we eat.
The World Health Organization says neurological and behavioral disorders can be expected, with symptoms such as:
That, sadly, is not the end of it. Ingesting this heavy metal can also cause blindness, deafness, kidney damage, cerebral palsy, and growth problems. It’s easy to understand why people are concerned about mercury.
In the United States, contaminated fish happens to be the main source of human mercury exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that any fish with a mercury content of 0.46 µg/g (or parts per million) should be avoided altogether, but there are also a lot of fish with lower amounts that should still be strictly moderated. Many kinds should only be consumed once a week at most, according to their recommendations.
It is especially important that pregnant women, or women who hope to soon get pregnant, avoid mercury. A lot of the problems associated with its consumption are developmental.
When you think of foods that are bad for you fish aren’t usually high on the list, so it could be surprisingly easy to ingest a hazardous level of mercury this way if you’re trying to be healthy or you’re a particularly big seafood fan.
You’ve wound up here because you fear that caviar, as a product of fish, could also contain this dangerous extra ingredient. You would be right to think so. Despite its presence, however, we’re happy to say you won’t have to abstain.
The amounts of mercury in caviar do vary, though they will almost always be on the very low side. We’ve found that most champion it as being some of the safest seafood when it comes to mercury content. This is great news for those with an appreciation of this luxury food.
Due to the trace amounts of mercury found in caviar you’d have to consume more than any sane person would to experience the effects outlined above, which is good as the list does not make for nice reading.
It would take large quantities every day before problems start to arise. Therefore, given its status as a delicacy that most will only have occasionally, we gladly advise you to keep on treating yourself!
So the amount of mercury in caviar isn’t normally a concern, but are there exceptions to this rule? It’s worth noting that, although sources claim caviar is very low in mercury, it’s difficult to find actual numbers on how much can be expected.
We can hope this is down to its infinitesimally small amounts. Perhaps the number is so low that it’s just not worth reporting?
Unfortunately, we do have some bad news: there are instances where larger levels of mercury have been reported in caviar. In 2013, for example, researchers discovered a high concentration of it in Persian caviar from the Caspian Sea.
Surprisingly, mercury was the only contaminant found to surpass the WHO’s permissible limits. This was not the only study to report findings of higher than normal mercury levels.
While this may seem disconcerting, the researchers did add:
“Their contribution to the total body burden of these heavy metals can be considered as negligibly small given that caviar is a luxury product”
This means that it is still incredibly unlikely that you’re going to get sick from caviar unless it happens to be a staple food in your diet, and there aren’t too many people who are that fortunate. Is there a chance that mercury contamination could get even worse, though?
Given the current low levels that you normally find in caviar, we don’t think this is something for you to fret over.
The levels of mercury in some fish do seem to be on the rise, with overfishing and climate change considered the main culprits. Luckily levels are falling in the ocean overall, so hopefully that trend will reverse as we continue to clean up our act.
While we don’t think you have anything to fear, is there a way to double-check that your caviar is okay if you want to be extra cautious?
You could use a mercury analyzer, but unless you’re a scientist it’s unlikely you want to carry a portable multifunctional atomic absorption spectrometer around with you. People might start to think you’re a bit kooky if you do.
There is a universal caviar labeling system thanks to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). This covers things like species type and country of origin but unfortunately does not mention anything about nutritional value or whether there are any unwanted extras in the product.
If you want to ease your mind a little more, then you could take into consideration where in the world your caviar originated. In the United States, 50 percent of the mercury emissions are from powerplants, with coal-burning powerplants being particularly big sources.
Many believe this pollution has an effect on our fish and if that is the case then it would stand to reason that less polluted areas would have healthier fish populations and healthier fish byproducts as a consequence.
There are dissenters to the belief that mercury levels in our seafood are due to pollution and our own influence.
If it is the case that mercury in fish comes from natural sources then you shouldn’t have to worry about there being a powerplant right next door to that sturgeon farm your caviar comes from. Not because of the mercury, at least.
With the lack of precise information, it’s difficult to put an exact number on how much mercury is in your caviar. At the end of the day, it is surprisingly hard to know for sure how our seafood even becomes contaminated with it.
It may be from our pollutants, or it may be from natural sources, but the researcher’s findings from the Caspian Sea do suggest there’s something fishy going on…
So we don’t have to worry ourselves too much about mercury. We know there’s a little in there, but we also know it isn’t going to hurt us. Is there anything else we should keep in mind, or is it finally time to dig in?
There is one thing to be particularly wary of: caviar has been found to carry a risk of containing Listeria.
This is a bacteria that can cause a serious and deadly disease called listeriosis, though the worst effects are reserved for pregnant women, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and newborns. We wouldn’t recommend feeding caviar to your baby anyway. They won’t be able to appreciate it.
Listeriosis can cause lifelong damage, and can even be fatal. It can lead to sepsis, encephalitis, and meningitis. It can also result in fever and gastroenteritis in those considered to be low-risk. While it is usually only found in small amounts in caviar, it certainly seems to be a bigger concern than mercury.
This issue applies to fresh caviar, so if you’re part of the high-risk group then perhaps you will want to stick to pasteurized instead. The heating part of the pasteurization process kills most of the bacteria in the roe.
As you would with anything, make sure the caviar you purchase is of high quality and ensure you store it properly to avoid giving bacteria the chance to multiply and spread.
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We’ve got mercury, and we’ve got listeria. Caviar is also high in sodium, calories, and cholesterol to boot. We hope this hasn’t put you off the stuff, though, since you can theoretically eat caviar every day. There is still plenty to love about it, and we’re not just talking about the taste.
When it comes to nutrition the salt and the fat may not sound the best. These are obviously not things you ever want to consume in large amounts, but with caviar being more of an occasional treat this isn’t something to be overly concerned about. We’re all allowed to enjoy ourselves every now and then.
There are considerable upsides to balance out the less healthy aspects of caviar. It’s a good source of vitamins A, E, and D. It’s rich in minerals like iron, magnesium, and selenium. It’s high in omega-3 and protein.
Suddenly Caviar is starting to seem far more appetizing again. Those lovely, reassuring things we just mentioned have a wide array of health benefits, from boosting brain function and the immune system to helping your joints and clearing up your skin.
They can even help prevent heart disease, and you’ll be pleased to know you’re far more likely to experience these positive effects than you are to suffer from mercury poisoning.
So there are some pros to remember so you’ll feel even less guilty about eating caviar. It’s also worth mentioning that taste again. That’s enough on its own to make the salt and fat worth it.
So you may not have to worry about your caviar, but which seafoods do you need to watch out for when it comes to mercury? The top ones to avoid are:
Large predatory fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury. This is due to their own eating habits. Methylmercury is not soluble and accumulates, so when the rest of their meal is excreted it will remain.
Thankfully sturgeon (and their roe) are not among the fish with the highest mercury content despite their exceptionally long lifespans, possibly because of their diet of fish low in mercury such as salmon.
Swordfish and Shark are the worst offenders at around 0.995 parts per million each. This may not sound like a lot at first, but it’s actually more than double the EPA’s limit on fish that should be avoided. It doesn’t take all that much to cause serious health problems, so you may want to skip these the next time you see them on a restaurant menu.
Tuna is typically considered to be healthy, but it’s also one of the biggest sources of mercury exposure as it is so widely consumed. The idea of eating a nice tuna steak every other day may seem like an appealing one, but it’s probably not a good idea for that reason.
You should also limit the amount of canned tuna, and try to stick to the light options.
Now you should know everything you need to know about mercury and caviar, and the risks with other kinds of seafood. We hope we’ve put your mind at ease and managed to answer all your questions!