After receiving rave reviews from prominent caviar connoisseurs during the past few years, will American-made caviar save the Beluga sturgeon from going extinct?
By: Ringo Bones
Though there is still a dearth of concerted conservation efforts to save the Beluga sturgeon from going extinct, the United States – being the number one (up to 80%) consumer of caviar in the world – had tried their hands at finding viable substitutes for the now seriously endangered Beluga caviar. American-grown varieties of caviar and / or Beluga caviar substitutes have since gained popularity after receiving glowing reviews from respected and prominent caviar tasters since the start of the 21st Century. But will these American-grown caviar and caviar-like preparations ever save the Beluga sturgeon from going the way of the dodo especially if the Beluga sturgeon only ends up on the endangered-species lists in name only? After all, without concerted efforts of restocking and spawning of the Beluga sturgeon and a well-enforced moratorium on the harvest and export of Beluga caviar, substitutes for Beluga caviar – no matter how tasty – could serve no purpose whatsoever in preventing its scarcer brethren from going extinct.
Given the success of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s white sturgeon recovery program, American-grown white-sturgeon caviar could be the most environmentally friendly alternative to the very endangered Beluga caviar. Stolt Sea Farm’s Sterling brand of white-sturgeon caviar has been touted by caviar connoisseurs as the best alternative to the now very scarce Caspian Sea variants of imported caviar. Sterling caviar has a rich, nutty taste similar to a Caspian Sea sourced Ossetra / Oscetra caviar. Sterling caviar – like Beluga caviar – tastes great straight from the tin or with traditional garnishes like sour cream and blinis / blintze.
After becoming a hit at Tip Sheet’s taste test back in the summer of 2002, Sunburst Trout Co.’s rainbow-trout caviar – made from rainbow-trout roe – was described by noted fish guru Rick Moonen as “decadent” especially when served with crème fraîche. Although cannot be strictly classified as a true-blue caviar under the 1966 U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ruling on what can be labeled as caviar, Sunburst’s rainbow-trout caviar is also notable for its refreshingly effervescent pop. This is one tasty caviar substitute.
Another notable caviar substitute is the wasabi-infused whitefish roe produced by Tsar Nicoulai. Described as having made an imperial showing since its introduction back in the summer of 2002, Tsar’s whitefish roes goes best – according to Michael Schenk, executive chef at New York’s Oceana – on tuna tartare. I haven’t tried this particular brand of whitefish roe yet, but most whitefish roe that I’ve tried so far can be “tweaked” to taste as close as possible to Beluga caviar by adding well-measured amounts of grated raw sea urchin meat.
Very popular in my neck of the woods – although not exactly cheap at around 30 US dollars an ounce – is the great tasting paddlefish roe by L’Osage. Notable for its Beluga caviar like texture and appearance, most folks in my place prefer to eat it with poached eggs and mayonnaise – and they’ll be virtually in heaven. But it is not as good as Beluga caviar when eaten via the traditional method using a tin or silver spoon straight out of the can.
These are just some of viable Beluga caviar substitutes that have been well reviewed by various caviar connoisseurs. Newer ones could be introduced this summer in a food festival near you. If this proves to be a success, it could hopefully lower the demand of Beluga caviar just enough to prevent the Beluga sturgeon from going extinct in their Caspian Sea home waters.