Is Caviar Vegetarian or Vegan?

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Caviar is a delicacy made out of salt-cured fish roe from the Acipenseridae fish family. Roe is a type of seafood consisting of the fully ripe internal egg masses in the ovaries of fish and marine animals. Fresh caviar can also come from the roe of other fish like salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish, and more. The best caviar should taste fresh, less salty, and allow the feeling of the eggs to pop on your tongue while a rich and lightly sweet flavor emerges.

Because caviar is one of the most extravagant foods out there, expect to spend $50 to $75 on average for about one ounce of caviar, which provides several bites for two. Caviar is full of strong vitamins and minerals like omega 3's; one serving has a superb amount of Vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, selenium, and more.

The Caviar Eggs

Most people know that caviar is a type of fish egg and that the eggs are called "roe". Although many consider eggs from chickens to be an approved food for a vegetarian diet, there is confusion over caviar. With regular chicken eggs, the chicken lays its egg and the farmer (or rather, an industrialized machine) collects the eggs, and the chicken goes on unharmed to lay another egg again soon.

On the other hand, caviar eggs are taken from within the body of the fish. Thus, while the chicken lays its eggs, caviar fish eggs have not yet been laid. In order to get the eggs, the fish is killed in the process, either as the roe-containing ovaries are extracted, or as the fish is caught (with the roe being extracted after the fish dies.)

The language here around eggs (with caviar being a type of egg; in this case, a fish egg) does make it confusing when it comes to caviar being vegetarian or not. Ultimately, because the fish has to die in order to consume the fish eggs, the process and product are not considered vegetarian.

Vegetarian vs. Pescatarian

Part of the confusion around caviar and vegetarianism lies not only in the process of the eggs but in the definition of being vegetarian. There are several types of vegetarians, like flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan. For example, flexitarians may eat mostly vegetarian but sometimes indulge in meat or fish. Pescatarians typically avoid meat and animal flesh but eat fish and seafood (often for health reasons.) Vegetarians do not eat any meat or fish but do consume animal products like eggs and dairy.

In this case, a pescatarian or flexitarian is more likely to engage in eating caviar. The various definitions of vegetarian are constantly being redefined and vary depending on the culture. It's important to ask people what they do and do not eat and what allergies they have because it is easy for these terms to be misunderstood.

Caviar Substitutes

Although caviar is indeed not vegetarian, the good news for vegetarian gourmands is that there are plenty of vegetarian caviar substitutes available. Many of them are made from seaweed and algae for that "fishy" taste. For example, Kelp Caviar is made in Canada and comes in sturgeon, wasabi, and salmon flavors. Cavi-Art is another vegetarian caviar that comes in various salmon and lumpfish flavors.