Here’s the Real Reason Why Caviar Is So Expensive

published Dec 15, 2023
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Caviar and champagne
Credit: John Anthony Rizzo/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Caviar has been synonymous with luxury since at least the 1600s, and the evergreen ingredient is enjoying another surge of popularity, thanks to TikTok positioning caviar as everyone’s favorite “snack.” The sight of a mother-of-pearl spoon with a dollop of sparkling caviar telegraphs big Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous vibes instantly.

Caviar is a sure way to elevate holiday gatherings, from topping classic latkes to gilding blinis. But if you’ve ever bought caviar, you’re familiar with its eye-watering price tag, so we are taking a look at the ingredient and answering the following question: Why is caviar so darn expensive?

Quick Overview

Why Is Caviar So Expensive?

Caviar, also known as the fish roe from sturgeon, is extremely expensive because it is generally very labor-intensive to harvest with sustainable methods. Additionally, caviar today is relatively rare and thus in high demand.

What Is Caviar?

Caviar is salt-cured roe from fish in the Acipenseridae family, aka sturgeon. While all caviar is roe, not all roe is caviar. Roe is the name for fully ripe eggs from fish and marine animals like shrimp, scallops, squid, and sea urchins. That said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows any salt-cured fish roe to be labeled as caviar as long as the type of fish is also listed on the product, so you may find products with labels like “salmon caviar.” If a product is labeled “caviar” only, it must be from sturgeon.

Why Is Caviar So Expensive?

Caviar ranges in price anywhere from $50 to $300 an ounce, depending on the variety. According to The Caviar Co. co-founder and CEO, Petra Bergstein-Higby, “Until the 1800s caviar was abundant, yet certain species of sturgeon were overfished and came to the brink of extinction which led to issues with mislabeling, a caviar black market, and higher prices. This high demand, coupled with caviar’s rarity and the difficulty, expense, and care needed to harvest caviar in sustainable ways (which protects the sturgeon species and the quality of the caviar itself) has continued to contribute to the expensive price tag and reputation as one of the most expensive delicacies in the world.”

What Does Caviar Taste Like?

There are many different types of caviar, and each one will have its own nuances, but in general, caviar has the briny saltiness of seawater, with a rich, silky mouthfeel and the characteristic pop from the individual eggs.

What Are the Types of Caviar?

The main types of sturgeon caviar native to the Caspian Sea are Beluga, Ossetra, Sterlet, Kaluga, Sevruga, and Siberian. Harvesting wild sturgeon from the Caspian Sea is illegal internationally, and sales of wild sturgeon caviar from the Caspian Sea, including Beluga, are illegal in the U.S. However, there are domestic alternatives, such as American White Sturgeon caviar, which is plentiful in California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as hackleback and paddlefish caviar, which can be found wild in the Mississippi River and other rivers in the U.S.