Home Ingredients Fish Roe Vs Caviar – What’s The Difference?

Roe Vs Caviar – What’s The Difference?

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Roe and black caviar in bowls

In the culinary world, two words that often get used interchangeably are roe and caviar. Both are fish eggs. Tiny, flavor-packed spheres that look very fancy at dinner parties. But are these two terms the same thing or is there a difference?

In this article, we’ll look at the difference between roe and caviar so that you’re armed with knowledge for that next upmarket cocktail party.

Roe Vs. Caviar – What’s The Difference?

Roe is a generic word to describe eggs from the ovaries of any variety of female fish or shellfish. Caviar is a type of roe that comes from sturgeon or other large fish. The scarcity of this fish makes it a costly delicacy that few get the privilege to eat.

It is usually quite easy to tell caviar and roe apart. Caviar appears black, grey or silver. Roe will often have an orange shade or some other bright color. Roe from salmon is called red caviar. They are large, orange balls that you regularly see on the sushi menu.

Sushi on chopsticks
Row is popular served on sushi.

Tobiko is another very common roe. They’re tiny, salty beads, found as a garnish on sushi menus. They come from flying fish with a texture that is almost crunchy as you bite into them. Tobiko can be colored a range of shades, including black (squid ink), red (beets), yellow (yuzu), and green wasabi).

On the supermarket shelf, there are plenty of low-cost jars of roe. These are harvested from common, sustainable fish varieties such as paddlefish, hackleback, capelin, or lumpfish. By law, the source of the eggs must be labeled on the jar.

Other types of roe popular in restaurants are bottarga, tuna, or mullet roe that gets dried and salt-cured. Their texture is firmer and can be shaved onto dishes.

Red Caviar
Red caviar is often salmon roe, a cheap alternative to real caviar.
  • Tarama is taken from cod or carp; these are cured and smoked to add flavor and prolong their life.
  • Roe from other seafood such as lobster or crab is sought after in restaurants. These eggs get transformed into buttery, rich sauces, or soups.
  • The texture of sea urchin roe (uni) is unique, as there isn’t a popping texture when bitten into. Instead, it offers a silky, custard-like texture.

Comparing the taste

Roe can vary in flavor depending on what seafood it comes from. The taste ranges from sweet through to briny with a buttery, fishy aftertaste. Although caviar has a similar fishy flavor, its texture is what people love. Like an everlasting gobstopper, those consuming caviar experience a journey: the initial texture is firm until the egg’s exterior melts and releases a soft, butter-like inside. The best caviar that is fresh will not have a salty taste; instead, it will be quite mild.

Comparison Table

 RoeCaviar
DescriptionEggs from the ovaries of any variety of female fish or shellfish.A type of roe which comes from Sturgeon or other large fish.
PriceHigh.Low.
ColorOften orange.Often black, silver or grey.
Shelf life once openedRelatively short, perishable.Longer life as the eggs are cured and salted.
TextureRanges from soft to popping.Firmer texture which melts into a butter-like consistency.
TasteRanges from sweet to briny, with a buttery, fishy aftertaste.Fresher means less salty. Ranges from sweet to briny, with a buttery, fishy aftertaste.

Types of caviar

Beluga

Beluga sturgeon is rare on the menus in the United States due to overfishing and stock control policies. It is considered one of the best, if not, the best type of caviar on the market. Scarcity makes it highly desirable and very expensive. Beluga caviar is harvested exclusively in the Caspian Sea, a vast lake that borders a range of countries, including Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

Black caviar in a spoon.
Caviar has a delightful texture.

Osetra

Osetra caviar is another overfished seafood that offers a delicious briny, fresh flavor with a nutty undertone. It’s tender texture, mid-large sized balls, and golden color make it another popular option.

Sevruga

Sevruga caviar provides a relatively strong and salty, yet smooth flavor. The pearly grey eggs are smaller in size than the beluga and osetra, are also more affordable. Sevruga can easily be identified as it comes in a red tin.

Caviar’s history

Caviar has a rich history in the culinary world with Aristotle documenting this foodstuff in the 4th Century. It was heralded and, on its arrival. Trumpets would sound to announce its arrival. Since that time, the Russian Tsars raised its status to delicacy status. In the early 1900s, exiled royalty and aristocrats who fled the revolution took with them a love for quality caviar. Their departure created a trend through Europe with everyone “wanting in” on the caviar action.

How to serve roe and caviar

At parties, caviar is often served on ice so that it can be eaten cold. The tin of eggs is simply opened and placed in a bowl of ice, which is then carried around on a tray. Although they may look better in an elaborate container, chefs often keep them in the tin to avoid damaging them.

Black caviar on ice.
Black caviar should be served cold.

The ideal utensil for eating quality caviar is a spoon made from mother-of-pearl or bone. Metals such as silver can taint the flavor of the roe and should be avoided.

Blinis

Whether you decide to splash out on exclusive caviar or opt for the more economical products, there a range of popular uses for your fish eggs. Russians love to eat caviar on buttered blinis, which are a form of small, thin pancake. Another popular way to eat fish eggs is straight from a spoon with a chaser of vodka or champagne.

Salad

Add cucumbers, beetroot, celery, and kohlrabi to a bowl, then toss with a vinaigrette. Finally, sprinkle with red caviar. The refreshing sweetness of the beets and cucumber balance the salty roe to make a tasty meal.

Eggs

Make a batch of deviled eggs and garnish with caviar. Once again, the saltiness of the egg balances the sweetness of the mayonnaise. The perfect hors d’oeuvre, consumed with a glass of French champagne.

Roe and caviar in bowls
Caviar is a type of roe.

International terminology

In Canada and the United States, a product labeled “caviar” must have come from sturgeon roe. Any other type of eggs must be labeled appropriately with trout roe, carp roe etc. In Europe, any eggs from a fish other than sturgeon must use the term “caviar substitute.”

Did you know?
National Caviar Day is on July 18 in the United States.

Why Is Caviar Expensive?

Caviar is expensive because the sturgeon species are threatened due to factors such as pollution and overfishing. Also, female sturgeon are slow-maturing fish and take several years to produce eggs.

Recommended reading:
What does foie gras taste like?

Final words

Roe is a generic term used for all types of eggs that come from seafood. This term includes roe from fish, lobsters, shellfish, and any other marine creatures. Caviar is a type of roe that only comes from the sturgeon family. It is a prized ingredient in many American kitchens and around the world. Sold for its lovely firm texture and buttery mouthfeel, we are confident you’ll agree this food is a delicacy for a good reason.

The price for good caviar ranges a lot, but you will be looking at roughly $4,000/lb. It’s not the type of food most people buy for everyday eating. But if you ever get the chance to try it, we recommend taking the plunge and eating some. There is no other ingredient in the world that tastes like it.

Have you tried eating caviar? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below.

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