Caviar Types and Varieties

Stuhr's Caviar Fine Art Print from

A Concise Caviar Guide

Caviar is processed, salted fish roe, eggs. There are several caviar types and many varieties of fish that contribute to this ancient gourmet treat.

True caviar, gourmet caviar, however, comes from sturgeon only, primarily Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga sturgeons. Every species of sturgeon, however, is on the endangered species list. The largest remaining deposit of sturgeon is in the Caspian Sea, shared by Russian and Iranian producers, where 85% of today's wild caviar originates.

Caviar from any other source than sturgeon must be designated by the fish it comes from, such as 'salmon caviar' or 'paddlefish caviar.' If it just says 'caviar' on the container, it's from sturgeon, or should be.

How Caviar is Rated

Fine caviar is rated according to...

  • the size and color of its roe
  • its method of processing

Color is designated by...

  • 000 for light caviar
  • 00 for medium
  • 0 for dark

Very light or golden roe is also designated 'Imperial' caviar or 'Royal' caviar, and was once reserved only for royalty.

The best caviar is commonly understood to be sturgeon caviar, with the largest roe and the lightest color. This thinking is changing, though, as more people discover the delicious and less expensive alternatives to wild sturgeon that are available. Indeed, expensive caviars are not priced by taste, but rarity. The "best tasting caviar" is up to you.

Caviar Types

There are 4 caviar types, that is, four processing methods.

  • First is the Malossol method, preferred by connoisseurs. Malossol means 'little salt' or 'lightly salted' and refers to fresh caviar with less than 5% salt. Modern fresh caviar often has much less, about 3.5%. The term is sometimes used to describe any high quality caviar, though.
  • The second caviar type and quality is Salted Caviar, sometimes called 'semi-preserved' caviar. It contains up to 8% salt. The more salt, the longer the shelf life, but taste may be compromised.
  • Pressed Caviar is next in quality. Made from too-soft, damaged, broken and overly ripe eggs, it is treated, highly salted, and pressed to a jam-like consistency. Once the only method available for preserving caviar, this is still the favorite of many connoisseurs for its strong, concentrated flavor.
  • The last of the caviar types is Pasteurized Caviar. Fresh caviar is heat-treated and vacuum packed in glass jars for much longer preservation. Both taste and texture may be affected.

Varieties of Caviar

Black Caviar,

Beluga Caviar

Beluga is the world's most expensive caviar, next to exceedingly rare Sterlet. Its roe is very large, ranging in color from black to pale grey, and has a smooth, buttery flavor. Fewer than 100 Beluga sturgeon are caught each year.

Osetra Caviar

Also spelled Ossetra, Oscietra, or Asestra. This caviar consists of medium-sized eggs, ranging in color from dark brown to light grey and even golden brown. Many prefer Osetra's nutty, slightly fruity flavor over Beluga.

Sevruga Caviar

The Sevruga sturgeon produces the smallest roe of the three main caviar varieties. More plentiful than the other two, it is also the least expensive. Its roe is black to very light grey in color and, like Beluga, it has a buttery flavor, but saltier, richer, and more intense. It's unique flavor is highly valued.

Tasty, Less Expensive Alternatives

Farmed Caviar Few realize that the United States used to produce about 90% of the world's caviar. It was so plentiful that it was served in saloons like pretzels are today. As supply dwindled, however, so did production. The U.S. and more than a dozen other countries in similar circumstances have begun sturgeon farming operations to preserve both the species and the industry. Commonly farmed varieties are Osetra, Baerii, and White Sturgeon.

People should live as well as farm-raised sturgeon. They swim in artesian well water, are fed the ideal, toxin-free diet, and have no predators. Of course, they do give their all for the cause in the end. Their roe is harvested at the ideal time for premium quality caviar. For consumers it all means a consistently high quality, lower-priced caviar, not from endangered stock. Try it.

American Caviar Sometimes misleadingly used to refer to any caviar from America, it actually refers to American lake sturgeon as opposed to Caspian Sea sturgeon. (There's an old story in my family about a fisherman, a small fishing boat, a sturgeon, and a long, long ride up and down the river.) Its roe is very similar in characteristics to Caspian Sevruga caviar.

Paddlefish Caviar With its clear, glossy beads, buttery flavor, and steel gray to light or even golden-gray roe, this is a good substitute for Beluga caviar. It is sometimes marketed as American caviar.

Hackleback Caviar This caviar combines the sweet, nutty, and buttery characteristics of other caviars. Its roe is a rich, glossy black color of medium size, firm.

Bowfin Caviar This caviar, more commonly know by its Cajun name, Choupique, is considered another of the better substitutes for Beluga. It has a distinctively sturgeon essence, with a mild flavor and firm, black beads, although smaller in size than Beluga.

Salmon Caviar on a Spoon,

Salmon Caviar This bright golden-orange or reddish-orange caviar is the favorite of sushi chefs everywhere. Its juicy medium to large sized roe, even larger than Beluga, has a distinctive popping characteristic in the mouth and a fairly intense salmon flavor. And because salmon have scales, salmon caviar is considered a kosher food.

Whitefish Caviar This is a small-grained, almost crunchy caviar of the salmon family, with a distinctive natural golden color and mild flavor. Another favorite of chefs. Whitefish roe is sometimes infused with ginger, truffle or saffron flavors for added interest.

Trout Caviar This is an interesting caviar, said to be good enough to eat off the spoon. It has large, golden-orange beads and a subtle flavor. It has a nice 'pop' like salmon roes.

Lumpfish Caviar This is a very inexpensive yet versatile caviar from cold, Nordic waters, surprisingly good-tasting. It has a very fine-grained, crunchy roe and intense briney flavor that is ideal for appetizers and garnishes. It comes in black and red, and is one of the pasteurized caviar types.

(Some caviars are dyed a uniform color; be sure to gently rinse these before using in a recipe.)

Capelin Caviar A tiny-grained roe similar to lumpfish, but chewy. Choose red or black varieties. This one is also pasteurized and artificially colored.


There's more, but I did promise a 'concise caviar guide.' This is as concise as it gets, really. In fact, there is so much diversity among caviar types and varieties that it makes caviar worthy of a long, delightful study. Enjoy.

Caviar Recipes

How to Serve and Store Caviar 

How to Buy Caviar Online and Off 

Back to Gourmet Food Guides for more like "Caviar Types"

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