Overview of Caviar Varieties and Terms

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© 2009 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Fresh caviar is actually a misnomer since caviar is typically aged in its brine for one to four weeks or even longer. Roe fresh from the fish has virtually no flavor whatsoever and must be brined for not only flavor but preservation.

How to Buy Caviar

Before you buy caviar, decide on which variety or type will suit your tastes or recipe best. Purchase caviar from a gourmet grocery store, specialty shop, or online retailer. If you purchase online, the caviar will be shipped quickly, usually with a cold-pack, so be prepared to receive and refrigerate the shipment.


This type is from sturgeon. The caviar is soft, clear, and glossy, with large, pea-sized eggs. They range in color from light silver-gray to black and have a creamy, almost buttery taste. The eggs have a prominent dark spot called an "eye" which is the actual egg itself. The surrounding gel is the egg sac. It is considered the highest premium grade available.


Osetra eggs are also from a sturgeon. They are medium-sized gray to brown eggs with a flavor that is almost nutty. Considered second in quality to beluga.


Smaller eggs than osetra, grayish in color, and the strongest in flavor of the imports. Sevruga also hails from sturgeon. Experts find sevruga to have a saltier flavor because the eggs are smaller. Although they are exposed to the same percentage salty brine as beluga, one gets more eggs in a bite of sevruga than beluga simply due to the size difference of the eggs, hence more of a salty flavor.

Sterlet ​

Small golden sturgeon eggs which were once considered the finest caviar available and reserved for the highest royalty in the lands. This variety is virtually extinct, so don't expect to find any on the market, even if you can afford it.

Lumpfish Caviar

Popular and much less expensive, this roe hailing from the lumpfish has tiny eggs, usually dyed black or red.

American Caviar ​

American caviar comes from the roe of a Mississippi paddlefish, a distant cousin of sturgeon. In 1998, the U.S. government ruled that the paddlefish is a sturgeon for food purposes. The roe is small to medium in size, varying shades of gray in color, and has an earthy flavor that some refer to as slightly "muddy."​

Whitefish Caviar

Whitefish are found in the Great Lakes region. Also known as Golden Whitefish caviar, the roe has small, golden yellow eggs and a less complex flavor, making them culinarily versatile.

Salmon or Red Caviar​

The eggs of a salmon are of medium size and light orange to deep red in color. Salmon caviar is the most often recommended substitute for the more expensive sturgeon varieties.

Tarama ​

Roe from the carp, this caviar is orange in color. It's often sold smoked, which provides a distinct smoky flavor.

Trout Caviar ​

The roe from the rainbow trout is orange and smaller than the salmon roe. The flavor is less salty than sturgeon and mild in flavor. Farming makes it one of the least expensive options that still yields great flavor value.

Caviar Terms

Malossol: The term malossol on the label is not a type of caviar, but a Russian term (literal translation "little salt"), meaning the fish roe was good enough to be processed using a minimal amount of salt, typically five percent of salt per weight. Most experts agree, the less salt, the better the caviar. Less salt makes it highly perishable and thus more expensive.

Pasteurized: The roe is partially cooked as a preservative measure, so it has a longer life. The pasteurization causes a slight change in texture, making it a bit more firm. Some pasteurized and/or jarred caviar may or may not need refrigeration. Check the label to be sure.

Pressed: Also known as payusnaya and pajusnaya. Not all eggs that pass through the sieving process squeeze through intact and they are certainly not tossed out. The result of broken, weak, or damaged eggs is pressed caviar, which is specially treated, salted, and pressed. It is often a combination of several types of roe and has a jam-like consistency. Although it cannot compare to the real thing, it is still a viable solution for recipes, having a richer, more intense caviar flavor. It is often preferred by home chefs looking for that caviar touch in less expensive dishes.