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It is well known that caviar is a luxury item in most people’s eyes. Caviar is often associated with fancy parties and upscale eateries. But why is caviar so expensive? And how much does caviar actually cost? The price of caviar depends on several key distinguishing attributes. There are two main types of caviar; red and black caviar. Red caviar is usually from salmon, while black caviar is generally from sturgeon. The type of fish greatly impacts the caviar price.
What determines the price of caviar?
Salmon caviar is less expensive than black caviar. There are several different types of salmon and their roe also has different costs. The larger the grain the more the caviar is expensive, however, a few other factors also determine the price. The smallest grain roe is Sockeye salmon caviar and it is usually the cheapest per pound. The second smallest roe is Pink salmon caviar and its price corresponds to its grain size. Coho salmon caviar is slightly more expensive than Pink and has a larger, deeper red grain. The largest salmon eggs are produced by Chum and King salmon. This is the most expensive of the pacific salmon caviars. Salmon caviar is less expensive than black caviar varieties because the fish is much more abundant in the wild. Salmon mature much more quickly than most fish that produce black colored roe, which also makes red caviar much more accessible. Pacific salmon roe is harvested only once yearly, in the summer months. The freshness and frequency of harvest affects the price of caviar.
Naturally black colored caviar comes from a variety of fish with the most common being Bowfin and Sturgeon caviars. The price of black caviar depends on the same principles as red caviar including maturity, abundance, and freshness of the roe. Bowfin is native to north American rivers and is abundant in the wild. Bowfin can spawn eggs after about two years. The roe is therefore much less expensive than that of rare sturgeons which have to be much more mature to spawn. One of the least expensive sturgeon caviars is that of the American Hackleback sturgeon because it is also abundant in the wild and can produce eggs after two years of age. Both Bowfin and Hackleback are plentiful in the wild and are mature enough to produce caviar after just two years, making them less expensive black caviar.
Caviar is graded?
Both red and black caviar come in a variety of different qualities, or “grades.” While the firmness and size affect the grade of red salmon caviar, the maturity and size are the main factors for sturgeon caviar grades. Salmon roe has to be harvested at exactly the moment when it is no longer premature, but not yet overmatured; the roe that hasn’t reached maturity yields weak and formless grains, whereas overmatured roe, although pleasing to the eye, has a very thick, chewy shell and thin watery taste. The highest-grade salmon caviar is then that, which has been harvested at the proper moment to guarantee well shaped, firm, but not rubbery eggs with a full body palate.
Of course, the proper harvest time alone does not result in the production of the highest-grade salmon caviar; the time the harvested roe spends in processing and the delicate method of curing also influence the grade of the finished product. To put it simply, the faster the roe skeins are removed from the fish, the better the resulting shape and firmness of the caviar granules. Furthermore, the curing specialists must make sure not to over or under salt the caviar while exposing it to the brine, which is the final and the most crucial stage in the process of salmon roe production. The less firm and more salty caviars are given lower grades depending on its overall quality. Caviar lovers are understandably after the best looking and the best tasting product and for that reason the largest, brightest, just perfectly ripe and salted salmon caviars are assigned the highest grade and the highest price tag.
The grades of sturgeon caviar on the other hand depend much more on the age and the specific rare species that is being harvested. Since these endangered species of sturgeon are aqua-cultured it is much easier to guarantee that the roe will be harvested at its most optimal condition, so a different set of factors comes into play here when it comes to the assignment of grades. Unlike salmon, sturgeons are capable of spawning many times during their long life spans and the more this specific fish spawns, the better the quality of its roe. Therefore, the roe of a fish that is spawning a second time will be larger and firmer than that of its first round. Although surprising, it is possible to harvest roe from the same sturgeon again and again. The caviar that is produced from the roe of a more mature sturgeon that had spawned before will therefore be assigned a higher grade. Another factor that comes into play is the color of the roe. Known colloquially as black caviar, sturgeon roe does come in lighter and sometimes significantly lighter shades. There are no methods to guarantee a lighter shade, which occur rarely, the caviar of lighter golden and yellow shades is priced much more highly and stands in the high premium grade of its own.
Why is black caviar so expensive?
Premium sturgeon caviars are much more expensive because they are very rare and not available in the wild due to extinction. Most premium sturgeon caviar must be aqua-cultured which ensures sustainability of these rare resources. The maturity of sturgeon impacts its price; the more mature the fish, the more expensive the caviar. Kaluga, Ossetra and other endangered sturgeon species have to be at least ten years old for caviar production. Due to this length of time and the fact that the roe can only be harvested once, premium sturgeon caviar is very expensive.
Aside from factors such as rarity and time to maturity which differ between fish breeds, all caviar has freshness and a means to preserve freshness and taste, as a variable defining its price. Fresh caviars which have a shorter shelf life because they contain no preservatives or additives, are usually more expensive. Frozen caviars are best within a 12-month period, granted the product is packed in airtight packaging and is stored at temperatures below -5 F. Of course, once the new season product hits the market the caviars from the previous season usually lose its value. For that reason, caviar dealers strive to stack up their inventory to last the 12 months, until the next season’s fresh product becomes available, so as not to be left with the remaining last year’s product. Although, one must keep in mind that at least as far as frozen caviar goes, it has a shelf life of 24 months and chilled caviar with added preservatives that of 18 months.
There are many components which influence or determine how expensive caviar will be. Everything from the species of fish and its abundance, to how old it must be to produce roe, to preservation of freshness influence the price that a customer will see on a price tag. At Fish and Caviar we ensure our caviar is as fresh as possible, with little to no preservatives to avoid altering its taste. We source caviar from species that are either abundant in the wild or aqua-cultured for sustainable fishing and harvesting. Fish and Caviar delivers reasonably priced products while providing high quality, delicious caviar to clients.