Caviar is the salted roe, or eggs, of the sturgeon. In the United States and Canada, any product labeled simply caviar must come from sturgeon. Roe from any other fish must be labeled as such (for example, whitefish caviar).
The most important caviar-producing countries have traditionally been Russia and Iran, both of which border on the Caspian Sea,where the sturgeon are harvested. Sturgeon live in other waters as well, including North American waters. Production of North American caviar has been growing in recent years, in part because of difficulties obtaining caviar from the Caspian.
To categorize it further, caviar is given the name of the species of sturgeon it is taken from.The beluga is the largest and scarcest sturgeon, and it yields the largest and most expensive eggs. Next in size are osetra and sevruga.
Although the larger eggs are generally more expensive, size or price alone does not necessarily indicate quality. All three types of caviar vary considerably in quality. The only sure way to determine the quality of a particular tin or jar of caviar is to taste it.
Good-quality caviar should be made up of shiny,whole eggs,with few,if any,broken eggs. It should not have a strong, fishy smell, and it should not look watery or oily.
Caviar that is made with a relatively low proportion of salt is labeled malassol, which means "little salt." Malassol caviar is considered to be of better quality than the more highly salted varieties. However, for those who must restrict their salt intake, there is no such thing as low-sodium caviar. Even malassol is salty.
Caviar is either fresh or pasteurized. Fresh caviar in an unopened tin will keep for a few weeks, as long as it is kept cold. Once opened,it begins to deteriorate quickly and should be eaten the same day, if possible. Pasteurized caviar is of lesser quality because it has been heat-treated. Unopened, it will keep much longer than fresh caviar, but once opened, it too should be eaten as quickly as possible, or within a few days.
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