consisting of the roe
(or eggs) of the Beluga sturgeon
found primarily in the Caspian Sea
. It can also be found in the Black Sea
basin and occasionally in the Adriatic Sea
. Beluga caviar is the most expensive type of caviar, with present market prices ranging from $7,000 to $10,000 per kilogram.
The Beluga sturgeon is currently considered to be endangered
, causing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
to ban in 2005 the importation of Beluga caviar which originated in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea basin. In 2006, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
(CITES) suspended all trade made with the traditional caviar producing sturgeons of the Caspian and Black Seas (Beluga, Ossetra
), due to the producing countries' failure to apply international regulations and recomendations, exempting only Iran
. In January 2007, this ban was partly lifted, allowing the sale of 96 tons of caviar, 15 per cent below the official 2005 level. CITES maintained the 2007 quotas for 2008, drawing criticism for doing little to protect the declining sturgeon population.
The Beluga sturgeon can take up to 20 years to reach maturity. The fish harvested for caviar are often nearly 2,000 pounds (900 kg). The eggs themselves are the largest of the commonly used roes, and range in color from dark gray (almost black) to light gray, with the lighter colors coming from older fish, and being the most valued. A pearly white variety, called Almas (Persian for diamond), taken from a centennial female sturgeon, is the rarest type of Beluga available, with an extremely small production and prices reaching almost $25,000 per kilogram.
Any additions by producers diminish the value of the roe, and the caviar usually reaches the market without any additions or processing whatsoever. Most people also find a good bit of acidity and/or sweetness in the flavor as well.
As with most caviars, Beluga is usually handled with a spoon made of mother of pearl
, bone, or other non-metallic material, as metal utensils tend to impart an unwelcome metallic taste to the delicate and expensive roe. But Beluga caviar, unlike less expensive varieties is usually served by itself on toast whereas other caviars can be served in a variety of ways, including hollowed and cooked new potatoes
, on a blini
, or garnished with sour cream
, crème fraîche
, minced onion
or minced hard boiled egg whites. The higher grade caviars, including Beluga, usually need very little embellishment.
Beluga caviar ranges in price from more than $5,000 per kilogram in the United States, to a low of around $250 per kg in Atyrau, Kazakhstan, the major production center.