Describing the taste of caviar is not an easy thing to do. No amount of description can truly explain the flavor, and since no caviar is identical from fish to fish, it gets even more complicated to identify how a specific harvest tastes compared to another. Yet the more a person tries it, the more they can start understanding the subtle differences between one caviar and another, and deciding which ones are their favorite.
When attempting to tell someone what caviar tastes like, “kinda salty and fishy” just doesn’t cover it. Some experts claim there are around 15 different flavors you can experience when eating caviar, and the taste is never the same from one roe to the next. This is why it is so difficult to explain caviar’s flavor to novice roe eaters. The taste of a malossol caviar can be an elusive sensation that is more like what the sea reminds you of than any particularly identifiable flavor all by itself.
The flavors associated with caviar do have common explanations: a breath of the sea, a touch of salt, the delicate flavor of fresh fish, sometimes smooth and nutty, full of sweet brine that pops in your mouth and fills your nose, like good raw oysters but richer. However, any given depiction ends up being underwhelming compared to the experience itself. Some caviar can have a buttery, velvety or creamy notes, along with flavors you might not notice unless you were expecting them. While the complexity of high-end caviar might be lost on someone new to the delicacy, it is important to try an array of the different caviar types to better understand the taste.
There are 27 different species of sturgeon caviar, and many more non-sturgeon fish that have their roe made into fine caviar. Each species has its own unique flavor, but even caviar from the same type of fish can taste different based on a number of factors. The health of the fish, the age and size of the fish, where it lived, whether it was farm-raised or wild-caught, its food, the water quality of its environment, where and when the fish’s roe was harvested, how much salt was used in production, whether the roe was pasteurized or not, if the roe was kept fresh or frozen after harvest, the container in which the roe was packed, how long the caviar is stored for, along with many other factors can all affect the taste in some way.
So for an easy answer to a not so easy question, caviar has a wide range of flavors that are not easily described, even by experts. Only through trying it more and more can we start identifying different factors, both natural and man-made, that affect the taste of caviar.
Caviar comes from the lightly salted, unfertilized eggs of the sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that swam the waters of our earth while the dinosaurs still roamed. The critically endangered beluga, the largest sturgeon, can live for more than 100 years, and its roe tastes of oil, brine, and money.
Once a staple of lavish parties in Tsarist Russia and pre-revolutionary Iran, caviar is now mostly farmed. Wild stocks of Caspian Sea beluga, sevruga, and osetra sturgeon plummeted after the fall of the Soviet Union; the state’s monopoly on fishing disintegrated and the sturgeon catch became a veritable free-for-all. By 2005, the U.S. had banned the import of beluga, and even countries bordering the Caspian like Iran and Russia are now farming much of their caviar.