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Caviar was a free bar snack (delanceyplace.com)
133 points by hecubus 52 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments

I grew up on Caspian shore. Article says shortage began in the 70s but I would say, from my observation of my father who was a fisherman, even in the 90s there was a lot of sturgeon in Caspian. We would have buckets of caviar at home being prepared for sale. The area we lived in was poor but people always had caviar on the table for breakfast. Also, the article says sturgeon doesn't need to go upstream in freshwater rivers to lay its eggs but it still does, the river Samur near us used to have sturgeon going up. Locals would catch sturgeon and would try to hold the belly hole of the pregnant fish because caviar would start dripping. Nowadays I rarely hear local fisherman catching any sturgeon with caviar, only industrial fishery companies are able to do that and sell 250 gram can of caviar for $100

Yeah, when I was really young I'd have caviar regularly, it was cheap, never thought much of it. Twenty years later, prices seemed insane for what was basically a weekend of fishing (mostly for the fish meat).

On that note, we had freshwater crabs pretty much every week, one big boiling pot of them. They were great, nowadays I can't find any.

Caviar is delicious, and also can be relatively sustainable because sturgeon are amenable to aquaculture. Beluga caviar is actually illegal in the US now, since it’s listed as an endangered species. But California raises farmed sturgeon. (The meat itself is delicious, so it’s not being wasted.)

Fish eggs, in general, are very tasty. A favorite Bangladeshi food is fried hilsha roe: https://www.cosmopolitancurrymania.com/wp-content/uploads/20...

And lobster wasn't a fancy meal until early 20th century https://www.history.com/news/a-taste-of-lobster-history

"lobsters were routinely fed to prisoners, apprentices, slaves and children during the colonial era and beyond"

That was only true in coastal North America (and even there, the tales of disgust have probably also been exaggerated), not Europe. There are traces of it being appreciated going back to the Romans and Greeks. http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodlobster.html

And the well-to-do in colonial America were eating luxurious German Bologna

I call baloney ... isn't it originally from Italy?

Yup, what we call bologna is actually 'mortadella' but is from the city of Bologna.

It isn't really mortadella, so much as a cheaper-to-produce knock off.

Makes sense: lobsters are essentially insects, and eating insects, such as cockroaches is disgusting for most people. I still refuse to eat lobsters and shrimps for this exact reason: I'm not eating any insects, ever.

Some human puts some species under some label.

You: I'm not eating anything under this label as it must be alike!

But in this case insects a lobsters are not even close in the tree of life. Maybe they indeed look alike a bit. Do you eat feces because it does look a bit like chocolate?

It’s not that far apart Lobsters and insects both belong to the invertebrate phylum Arthropoda.

If you want to include both spiders which are Chelicerata and grasshoppers which are Hexapoda that’s Arthropoda.

I guess cows are basically fish then. Both Chordates after all /s

Again it depends on the measuring stick. In terms of nutrition costs and fish are rather similar in comparison to say wheat.

If you have a shellfish allergy you are told to avoid eating insects. I know that is the case for crickets at least. So having them compared isn't that out there of an idea.

I'm guessing they avoid any arthropods.

Chocolate and feces isn't really a great analog.

>>Eating insects...is disgusting for most people

The several billion people of the world would like to have a talk with you...


I'll eat any insects. Well, not on the regular maybe, but I'd try them. I still want to try some grasshoppers and centipedes and whatnot, I wonder about the taste. I love salted shrimp, I remember seeing them in the water at the beach all the time, and people were literally walking there with a fine net and catching them. Not anymore though, waters are more polluted and they've been overfished I guess.

More insects for me!

All animals are essentially worms with some appendages here and there. Might want to avoid them too.

When my parents were first married they would be forced to eat abalone due to running out of money at the end of the month. They had friends who would go abalone diving on the California coast and give away bags of it.

What's interesting about beluga caviar is that it taste varies a lot. I've tried illegally caught Russian caviar and then I've tried some caviar from a sustainable farm and the former was way better for some reason.

It’s because the secret ingredient is crime

This explains some things about the legal weed market in my area too.

Generally wild-caught fish taste better, probably because of the differences in diet and activity.

WaPo tried to test this, and found that a bit of added salt overwhelms any difference in meat quality.


I don't buy this, in my experience farmed fish (at least where I live on the coast of the Adriatic sea), just like mass produced chicken, has noticeably softer meat with more fat. Perhaps you can't spot the difference when skillfully prepared, but while cleaning and cutting it it's obvious. Also the same kind of fish caught in Atlantic tastes very different than the ones from Adriatic, ocean fish having different/stronger smell.

Interesting, I seem to remember America's Test Kitchen pointed to some major differences with Salmon, fat content, taste and even suggested cooking temperature.

I mean, I buy the farmed stuff because it's good enough for me, but I'm not exactly a super taster given my love for bitter stuff.

I eat about a half kilo of poached caviar every year and I would agree. I've only had the legal stuff once or twice and it's not as nice. I'm guessing because wild caught must taste nicer than farmed?

You gotta pump those numbers up. The poaching industry is dying if we don't buy their caviar.

"It takes twenty years for a female beluga to mature, and at that point she can weigh as much as 1,800 pounds [...]. Such a fish could yield twenty pounds of eggs [when killed]."

That's got to be one of the least sustainable things I've ever heard of. I tried caviar once. It didn't taste like much, and I didn't see the point.

It is as sustainable as fishing any other species of fish. Whether caught for meat or eggs the result is the same. What matters is the quantity fished.

Many luxury foods became so because of culture/fashion trends, btw. For example, lobster used to be used to fertilise fields and to feed prisoners and servants in the American North-East.

I'm not much for lobster myself, but a rabbi once told me that among his peers who became Kosher later in life, lobster was the food they missed the most.

Yeah, that's why I don't buy fish.

You're ahead of the curve, soon nobody will be able to.

Lobster population is actually exploding as a result of global warming.

Real beef hamburgers are the food we will probably have to say goodbye to first.

Where is lobster population increasing due to warming?

Where they catch them?


Thanks, it makes sense... I remembered some recent alarmists headlines about how lobsters will decline in the area due to warming but forgot that it was warming in the first place that made it the sweet spot it's currently.

Edit: anyway, production in the US has doubled in the last 20 years but the increase in global production is less than 50%. So it has not "exploded" in all the places where they catch them.

Maybe I'm just falling victim to corporate propaganda, but I'm pretty sure wild (Alaskan) salmon is truly sustainably fished, as are sardines and anchovies

The Alaskan fishery is much like the fishery south of it in BC, where 'sustainable' is a bit of a joke - I think that term is based on taking a 'sustainable' number of the estimated population returning to spawn in rivers. Alaskan rivers are doing better than BC's, but returns are dwindling and both governments are consistently shifting baselines on a yearly basis. Every year quotas are smaller, but so are the populations.

This is something I follow constantly and the numbers are actually terrifying. Some rivers have okay returns of some species of salmon, but some like sockeye are at incredibly low numbers. They are by some measures on the brink of extinction, and many spawning runs are extinct already.

In BC, sockeye returns are currently being tracked daily and the result so far is that less are returning than ever before, and the amount returning is far less than the department of fisheries and oceans' lowest estimates. It's an emergency in my opinion. People shouldn't be eating sockeye.

I'm not sure about sardines and anchovies. I know herring have been seriously overfished, so I have doubts that anything we fish is sustainable at the moment. I hope it is.

I don't know much about fish or live near the Pacific, but neither of the links in my comment (sibling to yours) suggest sockeye is a bad choice. In fact NE Pacific 'early summer' sockeye is a recommended choice, and many BC sockeye fisheries have MSC certification.

I know there's certification, but if you look for BC's department of fisheries and oceans' minutes on the sockeye return, it's dire. As I mentioned, it's well below their lowest estimates. Their lowest estimates for this year are even lower than previous years. I've been following this for 7 or 8 years, and while there are years where the return is better than previous years... It's still not a good return historically speaking. The sockeye are disappearing.

This year it's not clear why numbers are so low, but a sound guess would be that the generation spawning this year's returners were largely impacted by pre-spawn mortalities. Numbers look good going into the river, but they end up dying before they can spawn. Research into this phenomenon isn't well-funded, but it's a known problem.

I thought there was a glut of sockeye a year or two ago? I remember seeing it everywhere.

Every now and then there are bumps in the size of the return (typically every 4 years, which is why the 4 year average is more meaningful to determine population health), but with salmon it isn't a very strong indicator of anything other than that spawning was more successful than usual or disease and predation were reduced while the salmon were maturing in the ocean. It has very little long-term bearing on population growth or stability, unfortunately. I'm not sure but I suspect a couple years ago was probably a normal, predictable spike. People get excited about it nonetheless.

Another thing to consider is that what we call a glut of sockeye these days is still a paltry return compared to what was once possible. 100 years ago, before a certain landslide occurred in one of BC's major rivers, our largest returns were estimated to be almost 40,000,000 fish. This year, we're seeing around 600,000 fish. We were expecting 4,800,000.

Thanks for sharing numbers. I wasn't aware. If you look at any form of wildlife though 100 years ago it's not comparable to today. Any other type of fish, oysters, bear, moose etc.

It's true, it's maybe a poor comparison to make. I guess you could compare it to the late 80s - we had a significant collapse across all salmon populations and it's not even clear why yet. There hasn't been a stable recovery since then, and overall the downward trend is continuing.

Something fascinating about this is if you look up the conservation status of the pacific sockeye salmon, it's Least Concern. There certainly are some populations in some rivers that are doing better than others, but the overall trend is a steady downward pattern.

There are good ways to check:

US: https://www.seafoodwatch.org/

UK: https://www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search

Both have mobile apps I believe.

Even the farmed ones? Do you eat meat at all?

Unfortunately, fish farming is currently not generally sustainable either, for other reasons, e.g. https://modernfarmer.com/2015/03/dear-modern-farmer-is-fish-...

Yes, I eat some meat, but fish is a special case as it's the only major source of meat that's from wild sources, and those sources are being exploited beyond sustainable limits much of the time: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing

Farmed meat on land can have major environmental costs in terms of resources, but at least we can see what those costs are. With fish, we're destroying ecosystems we don't even understand.

That fish farming sustainability article seems highly suspect to say the least, they're complaining about GMOs and such being "unsustainable" which is ridiculous. If anything GMOs are more sustainable in many ways, higher yield for less land, better targeted pesticides, etc.

I'll have to look into it more, there's a few different agencies certifying "sustainably farmed" fish at the moment which seem to be readily available around here at least.

Fish farming is a spooky rabbit hole to look into. All kinds of species, from saltwater to fresh, crustacean to finish, are fed fish that were caught in the wild, fed piles of antibiotics (this part gets really concerning, the implications for water sources connected to the farms are terrible), and all kinds of manual systems for removing polluting farm waste are employed where the pollution simply moves from farm to surrounding ecosystems.

There are better systems that are more sustainable, but my understanding is that most tilapia (for example) you'll find in a freezer at your grocery store is probably produced this way. It's really gross. Farmed shrimp and prawns are another one to stay far away from - they're labelled sustainable, but the farming practices are absurd. I don't trust any sustainability labels, anywhere.

Another one is Atlantic salmon farmed in the Pacific Ocean. That stuff is so gnarly. There's a reason British Columbia is shutting down a lot of these farms (and reviewing the remaining farms in 2022). It's bad for the environment, the product is not healthy, and it's incredibly inefficient. Yet somehow this product was labelled the smart choice for years.

I think you may be incorrect about GMOs actually being more sustainable, as they have a pretty major effect on biodiversity by encouraging higher use of pesticides and insecticides[0]. A great example is the effect they have had on the population of monarch butterflies, mentioned in the linked source.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food_co...

From that link: "A 2014 meta-analysis covering 147 original studies of farm surveys and field trials, and 15 studies from the researchers conducting the study, concluded that adoption of GM technology had reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%". Scrolling further down shows more citations showing lower use of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides.


Right back at ya' from the same link: "Some doubt still remains on whether the reduced amounts of pesticides used actually invoke a lower negative environmental effect, since there is also a shift in the types of pesticides used, and different pesticides have different environmental effects."

Again, read the monarch butterfly example, where higher rates of Roundup usage has killed milkweed all over, reducing habitat/food for the butterflies.

> It is as sustainable as fishing any other species of fish.

With such a long generational gap, of 20 years, that seems unlikely.

It all boils down to the quantity fished, as said. It may take 20 years for a female to mature but that still means that a number of females mature every year. Fishing them is sustainable as long as the quantity fished remains under a certain threshold.

Also the sturgeon is an invasive species in many environments, like in SF we're poisoning our lakes to remove them.

> I tried caviar once. It didn't taste like much, and I didn't see the point.

Caviar's similar to coffee or olives -- strong taste, deeply complex, some people love the complexity and others find it too off-putting. I personally find it delicious and unique. I've never heard anyone say it "didn't taste like much" though -- usually more of a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Also why it's eaten in small amounts, since it's so strong.

>> Also why it's eaten in small amounts, since it's so strong.

Fact check- It's eaten in small amounts because it's extremely expensive at this point due to people realizing the difficulty in producing it. If you look back to the heyday of caviar consumption (turn of last century and earlier), there were recipes that would call for as much a cup of caviar per serving. Tastes will always be personal, but the "strong flavor so people will eat less" is just your personal preference not necessarily a widely held belief.

Wow, a cup per serving? That must have been a very different type of caviar? With modern caviar commonly sold today, I feel like the salt content alone would make that impossible, beyond just the taste. Tody it would be like eating a cup of canned and salted anchovies instead of just a couple in your caesar salad... it just doesn't make sense no matter what your personal preferences are. Or like eating an entire jar of capers.

Or maybe there are other types I'm not aware of? When I'm talking about the strong taste, I'm talking about these types for example:


Russian here.

We often use pollock or pile roe in our everyday cuisine. You won't be using a whole cup of salty beluga's caviar for a pie or sandwiches of course.

I know what types of sturgeon caviar's you're discussing. The types of dishes I'm thinking of would often be using caviar as an ingredient.

Even with the high salt content, if you're using caviar as part of a larger dish you can adjust things out. Nobody would eat an entire cup of salted anchovies by themselves, but if used as part of a soup that could neutralize the flavor, they might.

As with most foods, salt content varies with intended shelf life and processing method for storage, because salt remains humanity's oldest and most commonly used preservative.


They no longer kill the fish to extract the caviar. They can now drain the caviar through a form of cesarean, basically, and release the fish back.

Do fish regrow their eggs over time or is like, once harvested they're barren for life kind of deal? And if so, do they tag them to keep track?

They regrow them, but they're prevented from reproducing that year. In massively overfished species that take a long time to mature, this seems like a problem.


Article about them here https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennysplitter/2019/01/31/beluga...

Interesting. I wonder whether they have data on the survival and procreation rate of fish treated in that manner.

I’d be astounded if the didn’t. They just need to tag the fish and check caught fish for older tags.

I haven't tried the super expensive stuff, but it tasted like seawater to me. Didn't really see the point of it.

At least with other expensive foods like saffron or truffles they are very potent and have pretty unique flavors.

Instead of caviar I'll just add salt next time.

Got bumped from cattle class to royal class (sic) on a flight when I was a kid. Got to taste real caviar. Black, salty, fishy and rather fatty. Bit gross really.

Also got asked for a drink (alcoholic, I guess I was old enough). Cattle class you got the drink. Royal class you got a saucer with a coaster with a doily with a smaller coaster on that finally with the drink parked atop, and a tiny fork next to it to pull out the olive in the drink, which it didn't actually have because it was baileys. Hmm.

In all fairness, even in the higher classes on airlines, any caviar served was probably not the greatest quality. Even so, the fatty, fishy taste is what most people prize caviar for.

Haha... nice sponsored content!

I don't get it? They were both examples of utter stupidity via conspicuous consumption. That's how I expected them to be seen anyway.

It’s the same thing as the rhino horn stuff in China, it’s all a silly status symbol.

By the same token "This thing is stupid and pointless, partly because I didn't find it to fit my tastes. I guess I'll just assume everyone feels the same way I do and I'll marvel at why other people have different taste than me" is something I don't see the point of.

I dunno, it tastes pretty good to me. But if one is used to spicy food and strong flavours, most of seafood doesn't taste much.

Nowadays the majority of caviar is farmed and the eggs often harvested using no-kill methods.

Similarly, there is a vegetable known as the heart-of-the-palm, or otherwise known as millionaire's cabbage, which can be harvested from a fully grown coconut tree, but which will kill the tree once harvested.

"Millionaire's cabbage?" That's funny.

Go to Brazil, heart-of-palm is in basically every salad bar anywhere, as common as lettuce and tomatoes. Just a normal and normal-priced vegetable, very mild flavor.

A lot of vegetables kill the plant that produces them... and the heart-of-palm that is canned and sold is produced from farmed palms that aren't coconut palms.


I did some extra research because I find this sort of HN style dismissivness extremely annoying.

Millionaire's cabbage seems to refer to Millionaire's salad which seems to be specific to the use of Deckenia nobilis, which are a protected species due to illegal over-harvesting. So the assertion that the term "millionaires cabbage" is funny because heart of palm is common in brazil seems disingenuous.


From Harold McGee's fabulously scientific book On Food and Cooking[0]:

"Hearts of palm are the growing stem tips of various palm trees, especially the South American peach palm Bactris gasipaes, which readily resprouts after its tip is cut....[Harvesting] hearts of other palms often results in the wasteful death of the entire tree."

(emphasis mine)


or perhaps they'd never heard of the term before (as I hadn't), and didn't know about the distinction, as the previous post didn't make that explicit, and they didn't bother to do the research you did. Not sure why you're jumping to the conclusion that the comment was disingenuous.

There are ways to surgically remove fish eggs from sturgeon, so it’s possible for this to renewable, but most caviar fishers harvest from dead fish —however it’s not a necessity, it’s just “easier”.

I'd think that the fish meat is also valuable? That's a lot of meat.

Yes, but that length of time to mature means population growth can only be slow, even in ideal, unfished circumstances, and as the article explains, sturgeon have been overfished everywhere.

When Glasgow was a major force in the ship building world, the unions had a clause in their contract so they would not fed smoked salmon more than twice a week.

Saw mill workers in northern Sweden had similar clauses. “No more than 50% of the salary is to be payed out in salmon.”

I grew up eating caviar (brought back from trips to Russia where it was dirt cheap in the 90s, not from being rich), and I absolutely love it. It's an incredible flavor, but definitely an acquired taste.

Like many things, if you grow up eating it, you learn to appreciate it. You can also learn to appreciate things that you didn't eat as a child, though that takes much longer as an adult. For me, I learnt to appreciate spicy food (in particular numbing spicy Sichuan food, and other Asian spices) as an adult.

> Caviar was served as a free bar snack, in the hope that as with peanuts, the saltiness would encourage drinking.

So it isn't just the cheap stuff.

I do have a note about the source, though:

> Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

This book vectors the myth that Romans were paid in salt.

This is not true:


(Wikipedia has, of course, been fixed. The printed material never will be.)

Now there are poachers and counterfeitters. https://www.google.com/amp/s/longreads.com/2019/02/12/the-ca...

Neat video of Gordon Ramsey visiting a caviar farm in Spain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88aDJFdUjH4

I always wonder how much of the scarcity is supply+taste vs. conspicious consumption.

I personally would't pay a lot for caviar of any sort, even though I tried it quite a few times.

Came here thinking this was about the demise of caviar the app.

I enjoy beluga caviar - very expensive for what it is though. A much cheaper alternatve is (homemade) black olive tapenade - almost as good for similar usages, and far more sustainable. But I suspect the consumption of caviar is more about signalling than actual taste anyway.

That's like saying that Trabant is a much cheaper alternative to Bentley. Technically it is... but not quite.


I don't know how to be any more clearer here, but "Olive tapenade as a beluga caviar alternative" is straight from the /shit-the-hn-says department, it's beyond ridiculous. "Ketchup as a San Marzano tomato alternative."

Is an interesting comparison. Salty taste and color could relate in some ways, but tapenade don't has the "exploding in your mouth" part, neither the strong fish oil taste. Is perfectly good in its own terms even if is not caviar.

While by no means required, it's not unusual for a tapenade to incorporate anchovies or anchovy paste which gives some measure of fishiness.

The only thing ridiculous here is the level of snobbery people will go out of their way to express without any prompting.

Looks like I was spot on with the signalling analysis.

I'd have more sympathy for your viewpoint if caviar actually tasted as good as olive tapenade ...

Well, olives are revolting to me, while caviar tastes great.

A more comparable sustainable alternative is seaweed caviar. It looks, feels and tastes pretty much the same as any caviar.

Ikea now sells seaweed caviar (I haven't seen it anywhere else in the US yet) and it is a legit alternative to caviar.

I'm slowly going vegan, for environmental and ethical reasons, and that was one food replacement I realized does a really good job at being as good at being a replacement.

I'd suggest anyone near an ikea try it.

"pretty much the same as any caviar"

Considering that there are a few types of caviar and they all taste, smell and look different...

I suppose that could be in seaweed caviar's favor - if they all taste, smell, and look different, maybe it can fit right in?

Tapenade, you mean even without putting any kind of fish eggs inside? Or do you put something cheap?


I'd much prefer tapenade any day regardless of price, though I did grow up eating it.

> bar snack

I honestly thought this was a link to an article about caviar bars, kind of like energy bars or chocolate bars.

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