Caviar is the processed, salted roe of various species of fish, most notably sturgeon. It is commercially marketed throughout the world as a delicacy and is eaten principally as a garnish or spread, as with hors d'oeuvres.
Today the best caviar comes from sturgeon fished from the Caspian Sea by Iranian and Russian fishermen. Some of the highest prices are paid for Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga varieties (note that the large-grained Beluga caviar comes from the Beluga sturgeon and has nothing to do with the Beluga whale). Dwindling yields due to overfishing and pollution have resulted in less costly alternatives, processed from the roe of whitefish and North Atlantic salmon, becoming popular.
In the early 1900s, both Canada and the United States were major suppliers of caviar to Europe, harvesting the eggs from Lake sturgeon in the midwest and from Shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon that spawned in East coast rivers. However, today the Shortnose sturgeon is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of endangered species and as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In recent years the aquaculture of sturgeon has been increasing, especially in France, Uruguay and Southern California. In recent years Paddlefish and Hackleback caviar have been increasing in popularity. These lower priced caviars are from the sturgeon family. Recently the amount of allowed wild harvesting is being reduced driving the price upward.
Due to its high price, it is synonymous in Western culture with luxury and wealth in the same way that personal jets, yachts, and mansions are commonly regarded. In Russia and other cultures, though an expensive delicacy, it is a common part of celebrations such as wedding and holiday feasts.
The name caviar comes from the Persian word .'¯ "H1 (Khag-avar) which means "the roe-generator". This name in Persian is actually used to denote the sturgeon itself and its product, the roe.
Commercial caviar production involves killing the fish and extracting the ovaries; caviar is an animal product and not considered to be vegetarian for this reason. However clever vegetarians have produced a soy based caviar that is vegetarian.
- Ikura - Salmon roe. Large reddish-orange individual spheres. Since salmon eggs are also used as bait, first-time sushi eaters who have experience fishing may be intimidated.
- Kazunoko - Herring roe, pinkish yellow, usually pickled. The roe is in a single cohesive mass and so looks like a piece of fish.
- Masago - small eggs of the Capelin, slightly orange in color
- Tobiko - Flying-fish roe, very crunchy. Similar in appearance to Masago, but more red.
- Uni - sea urchin roe, soft and melting. Color is an indication of quality and can range from orange to pale yellow.
Lumpfish (stenbider) roe is used extensively in Danish cuisine, on top of halved or slicd hard-boiled eggs, on top of mounds of shrimp, or in combination with other fish or seafood. Another commonly eaten roe is that from the cod (torsk).