Rod Browne Mitchell, President of Browne Trading Co., put together a few guidelines to consider when purchasing caviar so you can be informed of what to beware of. Of course, the most important part of the caviar scenario is freshness and quality – a guarantee that Browne Trading has upheld throughout our over 30 years of experience in caviar trade.
1.) CHECK THE LABEL
First and foremost is to understand how your caviar is labeled. The most common flag to look out for is anything that says “Russian Osetra” or “Russian Imperial”. In most cases, “Russian” refers to the species, not the country of origin. Caviar from the Caspian Sea and all Russian Osetra Caviar – in fact ANY wild caviar export – has been closed to harvest for years by CITES ( the Convention for Trade in Endangered Species). Anytime you see the word “Caspian” on the label you need to be wary of what is inside. “Caspian” refers sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea that primarily borders Russia and Iran and remains closed to the export of ANY caviar. U.S. Fish and Wildlife monitors all caviar imported from outside the United States, and only purveyors with a CITES permit that assures the origin and species of the sturgeon are legitimate.
2.) CAUTION WHEN BUYING “BELUGA”
Beware of any caviar labeled with “Beluga”, “River Beluga”, “Chinese Beluga” or any other words that include “Beluga”. Beluga Sturgeon is completely banned from Import into the United States and is a species (Huso huso) that primarily exists in the Caspian Sea. The Beluga Sturgeon is globally banned from harvest, and anything named “River Beluga” is most likely Huso dauricus or “Kaluga” which originates in China. This should not be labeled as “Beluga” in any way as the Kaluga Sturgeon is only a distant cousin to true Beluga (Huso huso).
3.) SIBERIAN STURGEON and OSETRA STURGEON CAVIARS
Caviar that is labeled as “Siberian Osetra” is very misleading. The Siberian sturgeon ( Acipenser baeri) is a totally separate species than Osetra (Acipenser gueldenstaedti). The Osetra sturgeon produces a much larger grain than its cousin, the Siberian Sturgeon, which is generally a smaller fish than the Osetra in the wild. Siberian sturgeon is much less known (only one farm in the U.S. raises it) and produces a smaller grain egg, so quite often deceiving dealers try to sell it this way. Siberian caviar should also be less expensive.
4.) KNOW THE SPECIES
You should always be aware as to what species your caviar is, the country of origin of the caviar, and the farm harvest date (all imported legitimate sturgeon caviar is available only as farm raised due to the protective ban on wild sturgeon stocks). Every importer is required by Federal law to have a CITES Permit to guarantee species, A “Certificate of Origin” that guarantees where the caviar was harvested, and a “Labeling Report” that shows the harvest date. As a discerning customer you should feel free to ask for these documents. Beware if a supplier or dealer cannot produce these documents or finds an excuse to not give you this information.
You should be able to trace the container of caviar you have by a “lot number” which refers back to the supplier’s legal documentation. This is also required by the FDA in case of any food related contamination or recall. If you don’t have a lot number, you should not be serving the caviar.
All caviar must have a “Best Consumed By” date as would any perishable fresh fish or packaged food. This usually is placed on the container along with the lot number. After all, why would you purchase premium “fresh caviar” without evidence of when it was harvested, packaged, or subject to expiration?
At Browne Trading, we take great pride in guaranteeing the best quality, freshest caviars –without any guesswork as to what you are purchasing – or where and how it was raised. Learn more about the caviars available.
~Rod Browne Mitchell, President