Tuesday, August 10, 2010

North American Whitefish: Caviar for the Masses?

With most sturgeon sourced caviar now in danger of being consumed to death, could the North American whitefish become the best source of caviar for the masses?

By: Ringo Bones

For as long as there been a whitefish industry in America and Canada, it has been suggested – for some time now – that whitefish eggs or roe may be made into caviar. And with the looming inevitability of sturgeon sourced caviar being eaten into extinction, whitefish sourced caviar – like its “fishy” counterpart could become an industry in itself. Fortunately, whitefish has an edge – in fecundity terms – in comparison to its sturgeon counterparts. But can whitefish caviar hold its own in the increasingly diversified – and competitive – caviar market?

Whitefish is an important salmon-like fish of the family Coregonidae. Found in North American lakes from about the latitude of the Great Lakes and northward, it is represented throughout its range by several subspecies. The whitefish, scientific name Coregonus clupeiformis, are very important food fish in the Great Lakes region. And although virtually depleted in some areas of the northern United States due to overfishing and pollution, about 4 million pounds are still marketed annually. Whitefish brings a high price; most of which are sold fresh while some are smoked. Whitefish roe has been made into caviar for as long as there is a whitefish industry in America, but most of it is only sold domestically.

Whitefish lives on a diet of insects and shellfish in moderately deep water for most of the year. It migrates shoreward in late spring and again in fall, when it spawns over shoal areas in depths of 4 to 20 feet. The average specimen runs between 2 and 4 lbs. but it reaches a maximum weight of over 20 lbs. The oldest specimen on record, as determined by reading the year marks on the scales, was 26 years of age. The Rocky Mountain whitefish or mountain herring, scientific name Coregonus williamsoni, is also an excellent food fish which may be caught by dry fly. Other species of whitefish are found in the Northern Hemisphere in temperate and Arctic regions.

Whitefish has crisply sparkling yellow eggs that burst with fresh flavour. Its naturally mild taste lends itself well to various flavour infusions like raw sea urchin to make it taste more like beluga caviar and smoking process. As a whole, mild flavoured caviars’ flavour variability are very dependent of the source fishes’ prevailing environmental conditions which it lived and the ingredients used in the roe’s preparation. Given the species’ excellent fecundity rate and increased anti-pollution and restocking campaigns, not to mention its good price-to-taste ratio, whitefish sourced caviar could well be the caviar for the masses.


  1. Whitefish roe caviar is probably the only type of caviar that's Kosher due to the whitefish having visible - to the naked eye - scales, gills and fins.

  2. Speaking of caviar's Kosher status, some Eastern European Jews consider beluga sturgeon roe caviar as Kosher. While whitefish has been famed as the quintessential Kosher fish, so whitefish roe caviar certainly pass muster. I wonder if anybody's "old enough" to remember this religious food restriction trivia back in the 16th Century when Catholic priests assigned with converting the natives in the Amazon River region had requested the Vatican to classify the capybara - which is a rodent - as a fish so that they can eat it during lent.

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