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Seven different kinds of caviar
Caviar is the processed, salted roe of certain species of fish, most notably the sturgeon (black caviar) and the salmon (red caviar). It is commercially marketed worldwide as a delicacy and is eaten as a garnish or a spread; for example, with hors d'œuvres.

Etymology

The word caviar entered English via Italian "caviale", though it is ultimately derived from Persian , , from khaya "egg" (from Middle Persian khayak "egg," from Old Iranian *qvyaka-, diminutive of *avya-, from PIE *owyo-/*oyyo- "egg") + dar "bearing."

Some people also think it derives from the Persian word خاگ‌آور ( ), meaning "the roe-generator"; others say chav-jar, which means "cake of power", a reference to the ancient Persian practice of eating caviar in stick form as a kind of elixir.

In Farsi, the word refers to both the sturgeon and its roe; in Russian, the word (ikra), "roe", is used. The Russian word malosol ("little salt") sometimes appears on caviar tins to show that the caviar is minimally salted; typically, caviar contains 4% to 8% salt, with the better-brand varieties generally being less salted.

Varieties

Advertising poster for Iranian caviar in Paris, France
The caviar of the sturgeon is the most expensive. Currently, the dwindling fishing yields as a result of overfishing and pollution have resulted in the creation of less costly, though popular, caviar-quality roe alternatives from the whitefish and the North Atlanticmarker salmon.

The harvest and sale of black caviar have been banned in Russia since August 1, 2007. The ban extends for 10 years, but scientific research and the artificial breeding of black caviar fish are exempted.

Ecology

Sturgeon
In the early 1900s, Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker were the major caviar suppliers to Europe; they harvested roe from the lake sturgeon in the North American midwest, and from the Shortnose sturgeon and the Atlantic sturgeon spawning in the rivers of the Eastern coast of the United States. Today, however, the Shortnose sturgeon is rated Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of endangered species and rated Endangered per the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In Spain a fish farm called Caviar de Riofrio has begun to produce organic caviar. The company raises sturgeon in such a way that it has earned an organic certification.

Current aquaculture of sturgeon is an economically viable means of sustainable, commercial caviar production, especially in Spainmarker, Francemarker, Uruguaymarker, and Californiamarker. Hackleback caviar is a popular, inexpensive product of this industry. Paddlefish, a sturgeon cousin, is also farmed in increasing numbers.

Recently, the amount of allowed wild fish harvesting has been decreased, consequently increasing caviar prices. In September 2005, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import of Caspian Seamarker Beluga caviar, to protect the endangered Beluga sturgeon; a month later, the ban included Beluga caviar from the entire Black Seamarker basin. In January 2006, CITES, the convention for trade in endangered species, announced they were "unable to approve the [caviar] export quotas" for 2006 from wild fish stocks. In January 2007, this ban was partly lifted, allowing the sale of 96 tons of caviar, 15% below the official 2005 level.

Production

Caviar with bread.
Commercial caviar production normally involves stunning the fish (usually by clubbing its head) and extracting the ovaries.

Nowadays most commercial fish farmers extract the caviar from the sturgeon surgically (compare caesarean section) and then stich up the wound to keep sturgeon alive, allowing the females to continue producing more roe during their lives.

Nevertheless, other farmers are going even further, they are using a process called "stripping", taking the caviar out of the fish without surgical intervention. This is the most humane approach towards fish that is present in our days, but not all farmers can do it due to the lack of knowledge in this field.

Alternatives and imitation

Typical Swedish sandwich with hard-boiled eggs and cod roe caviar from a tube
In Scandinavia, a significantly cheaper version of caviar, made from mashed and smoked cod roe (smörgåskaviar or sandwichkaviar), is sold in tubes as a sandwich filling. When sold outside Scandinavia, the product is referred to as creamed smoked roe or in French as Caviar de Lysekil, named after the Swedish coastal town of Lysekilmarker from which this type of caviar may have originated.

An obvious sturgeon caviar imitation is Danishmarker or Germanmarker black coloured lumpsucker caviar, which is sold throughout Europe in small glass jars. It can also be found red coloured. A more expensive sturgeon caviar alternative, sold in Swedenmarker and Finlandmarker, is the caviar from the vendace. In Finland caviars from the burbot and the common whitefish are also sold.

In some eastern European countries, such as Ukrainemarker and Russiamarker, "Ikra" also refers to an eggplant spread which is often referred to as "poor man's caviar."

Caviar farms have also been established in the mountains of Spainmarker.

In the vegetarian foodstuffs market, algae-based imitation caviar is produced and sold as a caviar alternative.

Cultural

Given its high price in the West, caviar is associated with luxury and wealth. In Russia and other Eastern European cultures, though still expensive, caviar is commonly served at holiday feasts, weddings, and other festive occasions. Sturgeon-derived caviar is not eaten by Kosher observant Jews because sturgeon lack the scales mandated by the kosher diet. Sturgeon possess ganoid scales instead of the permitted ctenoid and cycloid scales. Although there is a discussion of its status within Halacha, since the scales will come off if soaked in lye; however, this does not apply to every roe-yielding fish species. In Islam generally all sea or river animals such as fish are lawful and halal which applies to the sturgeon as well as its caviar (depending on which school of practice), though in Twelver Shi'a Islam the creature has to have scales. In East Asia, "caviar" made from caplin roe may be found on sushi and is often very affordable. Salmon roe is called "ikura" in Japanese, a loan word from the Russian, "ikra" (caviar).

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