Sustainable caviar, does that even exist? We clarify and demystify the prestige product, because today the roe is sourced from aquaculture
Source & Copyright by Altonaer Kaviar Import Haus
Author: House of Eden
In addition to saffron, truffle and lobster, caviar is the prestige food in all things culinary pleasure. At the same time, often viewed as inviolable, associated with crystal bowls, champagne and haute-cuisine, consumed by high society - right? Not quite, because caviar is currently celebrating its modern revival. All the more reason to clear up prejudices and myths. Because the abstract one luxury around tons of wild caviar from the Caspian Sea is a thing of the past. Due to legal as well animal welfare restrictions the sturgeon roe today originates from breeding or aquaculture. But is it sustainable caviar?
Beluga, Sevruga & Co. - What types of caviar are there anyway?
The bigger the better - the brighter the better. This is the go-to rule of thumb when it comes to types of caviar, the names of which come from the type of sturgeon. There are 4 types in particular of economic and social importance:
- Beluga caviar (Huso Huso): The roe of the European Hausen is the most expensive, best known and, for many, also the most delicious. Its breeding is considered to be particularly time-consuming and labor-intensive. The up to 3,5 mm large, light gray to anthracite colored grains have the typical mild and creamy taste.
- Osietra / Ossetra caviar (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii): Coming from the Caspian Sea with great importance for the Russian industry. The approximately 3 mm large pearls are firmer and smaller, and vary in color between shimmering gold, silver-gray and black. Taste: expressive and slightly nutty.
- Siberian caviar (A. baerii): This one originally comes from rivers in Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Its black to anthracite-colored roe is smaller at 1,5 to 2,5 mm, but strong and spicy.
- Sevruga caviar (A. stellatus): The grayish, sensitive roes of the Sevruga sturgeon are particularly spicy with iodine sea flavors. While it is bred today, its natural habitat are the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, as well as the Caspian Sea.
- Keta caviar: In addition to the "real" sturgeon caviar, are salmon caviar and trout, char and pike roe considered culinary alternatives. Visually, the trend caviar varieties that are known from sushi, differ visibly through their orange grain and are more affordable in terms of price.
Source & Copyright by Altonaer Kaviar Importhaus
Caviar jars are often also sold with the words "Malossol"and "Imperial" adorned. It is a fallacy, however, that these are caviar types or designations of origin. Rather, Malossol describes the preparation, Imperial a selection. In Russian, Malossol means "slightly salted" and describes caviar with a salt content between XNUMX-XNUMX%. Imperial on the other hand denotes an exclusive selection of particularly light, golden-brown shimmering grains of Osietra caviar.
Endangered: The sturgeon as a threatened living being
But how did it come about that caviar is so popular and the sturgeon so threatened? Caviar has a long history - around XNUMX million years old. On the Caspian Sea and the Volga, the fish eggs were initially not considered a delicacy, but eaten as staple food. This quickly aroused fascination with the tsars, princes and nobles. Due to its seasonal availability and short shelf life, the price then increased exponentially and overfishing occurred. Since the XNUMXs, this has officially endangered the once healthy, wild sturgeon population.
Source & Copyright by Altonaer Kaviar
Radical endangerment brings radical consequences
Even today, the increasing international demand for the prestige product promotes its economic importance and thus its endangerment. On the other hand, however, the slow growth, the late onset of reproductive capacity and the complex life cycle of the fish, hindered by human intervention, are also decisive. There is a loss of spawning grounds, blockade of migration routes by dams, pollution of waters and construction developments of banks, according to the environmental protection organization WWF.
According to the Red List of World Conservation Union IUCN sturgeon are the most critically endangered group of species in the world. Therefore essential: The Washington Convention on the Protection of Species CITES only allows strictly controlled commercial trade. In XNUMX the import of wild caviar was banned, followed in XNUMX by the complete ban on the wild-caught trade in the EU. Only products from aquaculture are allowed. Sustainable caviar is to be initiated in this way.
Is sustainable caviar possible with aquaculture?
Aquacultures for caviar are experiencing a real boom. The process, the operator's know-how and patience are decisive for an authentic taste. Because sturgeons reach sexual maturity in closed systems - depending on type and size - only after 5-18 years. In open ponds or net cages, it can sometimes take twice as long. China currently cultivates most sturgeon at 85% globally. Europe follows, with Italy, France and Germany in particular, promising high quality according to caviar experts. Place-To-Watch: More and more systems are currently being built in South America.
This is how aquaculture works
However, aquaculture is not a sturgeon-only phenomenon. Currently, 600 different species and half of the fish consumed worldwide are obtained through breeding cultures. And in different ways that are constantly evolving due to the delicacy-on-demand trend. The main production methods are:
- Pond management: The oldest and most widely used form of aquaculture. Rearing in (partially) artificially created ponds. With intensive husbandry: endangerment of the water quality.
- Flow systems (Raceways): Basins connected in succession in which water circulates. Inlets and outlets enable fish to be raised under controlled flow conditions and constant water quality.
- Net enclosures: Anchoring of net cages in natural waters. Feeding, control and harvesting are made easier through limitation.
- Closed circulation systems: Combination of basins and filter systems that are independent of natural water sources, which recycle water and return it to breeding basins. While they are more costly than other aquacultures due to the technical complexity, they enable ecological breeding with minimal environmental impact.
Source & Copyright by Aquaculture Info
The decision on one method or a combination of two varies from breed to breed. While the animals grow faster indoors, because temperature and light simulate an eternal summer for them and the water quality can also be constantly controlled, they are exposed to the seasons outdoors. The result: a late harvest. However, many, especially Michelin-starred chefs, swear by their quality for this.
Benefits of aquaculture
- Controlled extraction at conservation level instead of profit-oriented overfishing
- Responsible, legal breeding instead of illegal poaching and wild trapping
- Reliable quality at more affordable prices than before
- Aquaculture can protect species populations
- Sturgeon breeders work e.g. to restore wild populations
Disadvantages of aquaculture
- Potential environmental damage if chemicals, leftover food, fish droppings and antibiotics from open facilities enter natural waters
- Loss of valuable habitats such as mangrove forests that protect coral reefs
- If animals from breeding farms get into natural waters through open enclosures, they can displace native species through increased spread
- Fish feed is mostly fish meal, obtained from industrial wild fish or soy contaminated by genetic engineering, this applies above all to predatory fish such as tuna, but not to herbivorous fish species such as sturgeon
The standards and sustainability aspects to which consumers and retailers can orientate themselves are brought about by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), the WWF as well as the Naturland and organic seals. In general, it is always advisable to consume other types of fish from regional fishing, but this is not justifiable in the case of caviar.
The caviar harvest
Young sturgeons are fattened until they reach sexual maturity. An ultrasound is used to determine the development of the caviar. If this is satisfactory, the roe is removed, sieved and sorted according to quality - firmness, color, smell and taste. Since the sturgeon is conventionally sacrificed for the production of the roe, it is common that the sturgeon meat is also used as food item.
Source & Copyright by Altonaer Kaviar Importhaus
Sustainable caviar through new stripping methods?
To protect the threatened wild animal population, the CITES recommends a new process: while the sturgeon was conventionally sacrificed to remove the roe, new techniques allow it to be removed without killing the animal. An ultrasound helps to locate the roe in the fish. The caviar can be harvested by means of a massage through the urogenital opening, whereby only a XNUMX mm long incision is necessary to relax the muscles.
As a result, the conventional sacrifice of the sturgeon is no longer necessary, multiple removals are possible and the sturgeon can fulfill its natural lifespan. However, stripping methods often bring the roe closer to spawning. So too ripe and not usable for caviar production. In contact with water, ovulated eggs are sticky and even burst as soon as they come into contact with salt.
To avoid waste around these sturgeon eggs, that are considered too ripe, a new technique has been developed in Germany. This makes the outer membrane of the roe more resistant without changing the desired properties. The addition of hydrogen peroxide and calcium ions to the ripe roe hardens the membrane. This enables conventional processing.
Sustainable caviar needs democratization and demystification
However, de facto, it is not the case that all breeders use the new method. For sustainable caviar, a critical look at the origin is sufficient and important. Moreover, also creating more awareness in order to build up social pressure on producers. Today, caviar has become increasingly a food and not an exclusive prestige good. The product needs to be democratized as well as demystified.