Sunday, May 1, 2016

Salmon Caviar: Best Caspian Sea Sturgeon Caviar Alternative?

Given that it has a better fecundity rate than the famed Caspian Sea sturgeon, is salmon the best alternative to the now endangered sturgeon sourced caviar? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Since the late 1990s, salmon sourced caviar – i.e. salmon roe – had been promoted as a better alternative to the endangered Caspian Sea sturgeon sourced caviar as typified by the “Sustainable Salmon Roe Caviar” advert. While salmon not only has a much better fecundity rate than the now endangered Caspian Sea sturgeon but also there are several species of salmon that are commercially fished. But which species of salmon makes the best Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar substitute? 

An important food and game fish, salmon is found in northern regions. It is characterized by a long body, small cycloid scales and a small fatty fin on the dorsal surface opposite the anal fin and the absence of spines. It is related to the trout. Salmon typically swim up from the oceans or lakes into rivers or streams to spawn. They usually return to the same waters in which they were hatched; some scientists believe that the salmon find their way by smell. Some species of salmon are landlocked in lakes. 

The Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, is found on both sides of the Atlantic and once was common in waters north of the Hudson River. Now it is limited to a few rivers in eastern Maine and Canada. Pollution – primarily PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls before they are banned, impassable dams near the mouth of rivers, overfishing, destruction of spawning grounds through deforestation and loss of their young in hydroelectric power plant turbines have all contributed to reducing the population of this fish. 

The adult fish migrates from the ocean into rivers in its fifth year, when it weighs 8 to 16 pounds. It spawns over gravel beds, where the eggs remain buried for five to six months before the fish hatch. When the fish is about one month old, it comes out of the gravel and feeds on crustaceans. After dark vertical bands and red spots have formed on the sides, it is called parr. At the end of their third winter, when it has lost its markings and become silvery, it is called smolt. It is then 5 to 6 inches long. The smolt moves downstream to the sea, where it feeds on fishes and grows rapidly for about two years. Then as an adult, the salmon moves upstream but returns to the ocean after it has spawned. A variety of the Atlantic salmon – the landlocked salmon, Salmo salar Sebago – is found in some lakes of the northeastern United States and the Maritime Provinces. 

 The Pacific salmon belongs to the genus Oncorhynchus. There are five species in the eastern Pacific. The red sockeye or blueback salmon – Oncorhynchus nekra – averages 2 feet in length and weighs 3 ½ to 8 pounds with exceptional specimens reaching 100 pounds. The coho or silver salmon – Oncorhynchus kisutch – reaches 15 inches and weighs about 3 to 8 pounds. The pink or humpback salmon – Oncorhynchus gorbuscha – weighs about 6 pounds. The chum, keta or dog salmon – Oncorhynchus keta – grows to 12 pounds. The adult lives in the ocean and when mature swims up the rivers of its birth to spawn over gravel. Some species, like the king and coho, make long journeys; others like the pink and chum, move only short distances upstream. The spawning season varies from late summer to early winter. The nest, or redd, is a depression in the bottom of the stream, where the eggs incubate in gravel. 

Unlike the Atlantic salmon, the Pacific salmon dies after spawning. After a period that varies with the species, the young move down the sea to feed. The pacific salmon is the most valuable fishery resource belonging to the United States. About 90-percent of U.S. production and 55-percent of world production is taken in Alaska. The Pacific salmon is also among the most popular sport fishes. The salmon is classified in the order Clupeiformes, family Salmonidae. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mullet Roe Caviar: The Most Environmentally Sustainable Caviar Substitute?

Of all the Caspian Sea Beluga caviar substitutes that have hit the market in the 21st Century, is mullet roe caviar the most environmentally sustainable? 

By: Ringo Bones 

If worldwide fishing quotas in tropical and subtropical waters are strictly enforced, mullet roe caviar could become the most environmentally sustainable source of Caspian Sea Beluga caviar substitute. Not just environmentally friendly due to its better fecundity than the Caspian Sea Beluga sturgeon, the mullet roe caviar is also probably the most popular kind of Beluga caviar substitute in the world’s haute cuisine scene in the form of Karasumi – a Taiwanese Caspian Sea Beluga caviar substitute often sold in Japanese sushi restaurants that's derived from mullet roe. 

Mullet are a small fish of the genus Mugil of world-wide occurrence in tropical and subtropical waters. Both fresh and salt water species are known while the salt water species are numerous along the Atlantic coasts of North America and South America. Mullets have small teeth and feed on vegetation on the bottom. They run in very large schools in which individual fish keep jumping, sometimes clearing the water by up to 3-feet. These huge schools move southward in autumn and immense commercial catches are sometimes made. One catch batch weighing 60,000 pounds was taken in a single net haul. About 37-million pounds worth of mullet are fished annually. Compared to other commercial fish, mullets are relatively low priced and are usually sold fresh. The striped mullet – scientific name Mugil cephalus – are common in both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and reaches a length of 2-feet. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Flying Fish Roe Caviar: Most Versatile Caviar Substitute?

Even though it first debuted in exclusive high-end restaurants away from the hoi-polloi of your typical hipster foodie hangout, could the increasing popularity of flying fish roe caviar revolutionize the world caviar scene?

By: Ringo Bones 

Even though it only became widely known to the hipster-foodie-scene-at-large near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, flying fish roe caviar – popularly known as Tobiko – was hailed to be the most versatile ingredient in cutting edge newfangled dishes. No longer the exclusive “proprietary secret ingredient” of top sushi chefs; the shiny, crunchy, vibrant orange and dense black versions of this Caribbean fish roe are a total delight for both chef and aficionado alike. But what makes flying fish roe - i.e. that orange colored pearl-like tasty stuff in sushi rolls -  caviar a more “environmentally-friendly” option in comparison to the “traditional” true blue Caspian Sea sturgeon sourced caviar? 

Flying fish - the common name of some 50 species of fishes in the family Exocetidae, they are found in warm seas, like the Caribbean, and usually far from land. Flying fish range in color from blue or greenish on the upper portion of their bodies and silvery white at the bottom as a form of protective camouflage coloration typical of open-water ranging fishes. Its ability to glide is made possible via the great enlargement of the pectoral fins in the two-winged flying fish. Ordinarily, flight is made in order to escape enemies and the action is often initiated by any large body – such as a ship – cutting through the water. 

Since the wings are held rigid, the flight can in no way be compared that of a bird or bat but is more like that of an unpowered fixed-wing glider. The propulsive thrust is supplied by the tail, the lower lobe of which is extended. Flying fish swim rapidly and when the surface of the water is reached, they set the pectoral fins at right angles to the body. They then skim the water, the tail remaining submerged and moving laterally with powerful strokes. Now they tremble all over from the thrust so that the tips of the pectorals may alternately touch the water in a manner which falsely suggests that they are voluntarily moved. They shoot into the air at a speed of 30 or 40 miles per hour. The glide may last 30 seconds and cover 300 yards, although the time in the air and the distance covered vary greatly. The flight ends as the fish dive into the water; but in many cases they turn immediately at right angles and take off again. 

Flying fish lay their eggs supplied with fine sticky threads which anchor them in crude rests in drifting seaweed. The species of seaweed the flying fish laid and anchored their eggs to plays a factor in the resulting final color (and inherently varying nutritional content?) of the Tobiko caviar. The young differ in color from the adults and often have a pair of whisker like appendages on their lower jaws. 

Flying fish are an excellent food fish. They also serve as forage for important food fish such as tuna and are often used as bait. In the Philippines, flying fish caught locally are usually prepared with a sugar and salt blend marinade since the species found locally tend to have a bitter / blander taste in comparison to other locally sea caught food fish.    

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trout Caviar: All American Caviar?

Despite sturgeon sourced caviar’s apocryphal Russian origins, does trout sourced caviar qualify as bona fide American caviar? 

By:  Ringo Bones 

In actuality, modern commercial caviar started in America, in fact it started in Albany, New York. Remember Albany Beef? It’s a sturgeon sourced delicacy where the sturgeon roe caviar was originally as the byproduct originally given for free like complimentary free peanuts in bars around Albany close to sturgeon processing plants. Given that surgeon breeds more slowly in comparison to other commercially caught fish in the United States, substitutes to sturgeon roe were tried and those from species of commercially caught fish with better fecundity that taste closer to sturgeon roe are marketed as caviar substitutes with varying degrees of success. One of these is trout caviar. 

Trout are important game fishes that are included with salmon in the family Salmonidae. They are distributed circumpolarly in Arctic and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Characterized by soft-rayed fins, small scales and an adipose fin behind the dorsal fin, trout occurs in salt and fresh water and in many cases both sea-run and land-locked populations of the same species are known. All species migrate upstream to spawn. There are two main groups, the chars and trouts, distinguished by the arrangement of the teeth and the shape of the vomer bone in the roof of the mouth. 

Among the many species of chars, two of the best known are the brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, of eastern North America and the Dolly varden, Salvelinus malma, of the west. These fishes have both red and light spots on a dark body rather than the red and black spots on a lighter background found in most Salmo. The large lake trout, Cristivomer mamaycush, of the Great Lakes region and northward is also char. The other group of trout includes the steelhead, Salvelinus gairdneri, or rainbow trout, a native of the Pacific coastal area and the brown trout, Salvolinus trutta, of Europe. Both had been introduced widely in the United States and elsewhere. In the Rocky Mountain Region and westward there are other species. Some are of great beauty, such as the golden trout Salvelinus agua-bonita; cutthroat trout, Salvelinus clarkii and Yellowstone trout, Salvelinus lewisi. 

Before the widespread commercial production of trout roe caviar, the eggs of trouts are often raised in fish hatcheries and so the fish had been widely distributed. Hybridization makes this fishes difficult to identify. Their beauty and splendid game qualities as well as their excellent flesh are praised by all. In many southern states in the United States the large mouth bass, Huro salmoides, and the weakfish, Cynoscion regalis, are called trout. Trout have been introduced in the Southern Hemisphere. The New Zealand Chilean native trouts belong to a different family, the Galaxiidae. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cruelty-Free Caviar, Anyone?

Given that captive-bred caviar is widely touted as the one saving its wild cousin from extinction, should captive-bred caviar be cruelty-free too? 

By: Ringo Bones

In a perfect world, a true-blue cruelty-free captive-raised / captive-bred caviar should only get the cruelty-free stamp of approval if the “captive” environment it was raised in mimics that of its home waters – including wide open spaces for swimming – 100%. Sadly, in the real world, this is hardly the case – but can an enterprising company that produces captive-bred caviar also get a true-blue cruelty-free stamp of approval while still maintaining economic viability? 

One company that has raised concern over the cruelty issue of raising sturgeons in captivity for caviar production in order to save their wild brethren is Abu Dhabi’s The Royal Caviar Company. Abu Awad, manager of The Royal Caviar Company says they are reducing pressure of the depletion of the wild sturgeon stock by raising them in captivity, while at the same time the company also reduced the inherent cruelty of raising sturgeon in captivity for caviar production by constructing fish ponds that closely mimic the naturally prevailing conditions of the fish’s home waters. Will captive-bred caviar prove to be a more environmentally sustainable substitute over their wild brethren? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Caviar Skin Treatment: Mere Health And Wellness Fad?

The science behind this health regimen might be shaky due o the concept of bioavailability, but are we better off eating caviar as opposed to topically smearing it into our faces and other parts of our bodies?

By: Ringo Bones

Caviar skin treatment had been hyped, promoted, endorsed and certainly used by Hollywood actress and UNHCR spokesperson Angelina Jolie as her primary beauty secret. Caviar is chock full of essential nutrients necessary in keeping our bodies healthy, but is the science behind topically smearing caviar on one’s skin as a health and beauty regimen really sound?

Extracting oil from one of the world’s most expensive delicacies and incorporating it into a skin cream – supposedly – rejuvenates our skin cells because of the cellular consistency between our skin and caviar are sort of similar. Studies conducted over the years have shown that the cellular structure of prepared caviar is strikingly similar to human skin. Both contain 50% to 70% water, with a similar percentage breakdown in lipids, proteins, micronutrients and trace elements.

Also, caviar is very rich in Vitamins A, D, B1, B6 and the minerals cobalt, copper, phosphorous, silicon and zinc, as well as amino acids like glycine, lysine, histidine, arginine, and asparagine. Not to mention that these easily digestible proteins are in the form that has a very high bioavailability rating. But is it really better o eat the caviar as opposed to merely smearing it into our faces and wait for skin absorption to allow the nutrients to enter into our body?

Latest ongoing studies have shown that the jury is still out whether topically smearing caviar into our skin as opposed to eating it really has scientifically verifiable health and wellness benefits. But in the meantime, most health and beauty conscious folks not swayed by hype are opting to orally consume caviar as opposed to smearing it into their faces.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lumpfish Roe Caviar: The Sustainable Caviar?

Despite the uncertainties of the census of its total population and sustainability studies when harvested in a larger commercial scale, is lumpfish roe caviar truly pass muster as sustainably-harvested caviar?

By: Ringo Bones

When tenured zoologists keeping tabs on the declining population of the beluga sturgeon and related sturgeon species in the Caspian Sea region finally sounded the alarm during the latter half of the 1990s that we might be driving these sturgeon species to extinction via uncontrolled caviar harvesting, the search for more plentiful roe from species that can sustainably harvested slowly over the years became an industry of its own. Fast forward to the first decade of the 21st Century, the beluga caviar substitute industry has started to boom thanks to caviar connoisseurs conscientious enough to forgo consuming the endangered species of sturgeon caviar to allow the species to sustainably recover back to commercially sustainable population levels. But do some sturgeon roe caviar substitutes – like lumpfish roe caviar – really pass muster as a more sustainable substitute for beluga sturgeon sourced caviar and related species?

Lumpfish – also known as lumpsucker – is a generic term for the small scorpaeniform marine fish of the family Cyclopteridae. The most well-known of which is the smooth lumpsucker or lumpfish whose scientific name is Aptoyelus ventricosus. Lumpfish are one of the oddest looking fishes that are currently commercially harvested – think Slimer from Ghostbusters. These fish don’t have gas bladders and are found primarily between the continental shelf and continental slope regions at depths between 100 to 1,700 meters.

From a zoological perspective, lumpfish - or lumpsuckers - are a poorly studied group of fishes. In which still very little is known of their behavior, biology and total population - which is the primary reason why most major fisheries regulatory bodies are still reluctant to give the green light for a much increased commercial harvesting of lumpfish or lumpsucker roe as a beluga caviar substitute.

As far as ichthyologists currently know, at least some species – like the smooth lumpfish – are known to travel great distances in order to spawn in shallow intertidal waters during the months of December to June. The male of the species are known to guard the brood of spherical eggs. The egg mass comprising of thousands of individual roes clumps together in adhesive packets which will break open when the eggs are ready to hatch. Very young lumpfish typically stay in shallow waters until they are fully developed, making them easy prey for predators.

Lumpfish have evolved one interesting trait. Their pelvic fins are sticky – which means that the fish can use their sticky fins to “velcro” themselves to hard rocky surfaces. Since they are bottom dwellers, this trait can be quite when they anchor themselves as they wait for a passing meal.

Lumpfish roe is now commonly sold as a beluga caviar alternative. But hardcore caviar connoisseurs often see red over the lumpfish roe caviar industry because some unscrupulous dealers often sold lumpfish roe as genuine true-blue beluga caviar or true sturgeon roe to unseasoned buyers given that its texture can easily fool novice and “first-time” caviar connoisseurs.

While the more well-heeled caviar snobs often look down their noses at lumpsucker roe or lumpfish roe caviar, it can be quite good when it is prepared in a proper way. If lumpfish roe is prepared properly – and carefully – it will have its own unique and distinct effervescing feel in one’s mouth – i.e. each roe bursting open in response to the gentle pressure of one’s teeth. Preparation-wise, lumpfish roe caviar is more unforgiving if improperly handled and prepared in comparison to its classier Caspian Sea sturgeon sourced cousins. Lightly salted or malossol lumpfish roe caviar can be used like beluga sturgeon sourced caviar to accompany various appetizers, and also be added to pasta sauces and spreads, as well as main dishes like omelettes.

Lumpfish roe comes in a range of colors. Most of the lumpfish roe sold commercially is dyed to be either red or black. If one is fortunate enough to find lumpfish roe caviar that is not artificially dyed, it can really make for an unusual appetizer as the roes naturally have that iridescent mother-of-pearl in color. Improperly handled lumpfish roe – like improperly handled sturgeon roe – for caviar use can truly have atrociously-tasting results. If you happen to purchase lumpfish roe caviar with an oily texture and a fishy smell – return it immediately to the retailer and demand a refund.