See I. Saffron, Caviar (2002).
Caviar is the processed, salted roe of certain species of fish, most notably the sturgeon (black caviar) and the salmon (red caviar). It is commercially marketed worldwide as a delicacy and is eaten as a garnish or a spread; for example, with hors d'œuvres.
The word caviar entered English via Italian or Turkish,; it is ultimately derived from Persian /xɒvjɒr/, from khaya "egg" (from Middle Persian khayak "egg," from Old Iranian *qvyaka-, diminutive of *avya-, from PIE *owyo-/*oyyo- "egg") + dar "bearing."
Some also think it derives from the Persian word خاگآور (Xâg-âvar), meaning "the roe-generator"; others say chav-jar, which means "cake of power", a reference to the ancient Persian practice of eating caviar in stick form as a kind of elixir.
In Persian, the word refers to both the sturgeon and its roe; in Russian, the word икра (ikra), "roe", is used. The Russian word malossol ("little salt") sometimes appears on caviar tins to show that the caviar is minimally salted; typically, caviar contains 4% to 8% salt, with the better-brand varieties generally being less salted.
The Caspian Sea is considered the source of the finest black caviar in the world. Contemporary black caviar is roe from sturgeon fished from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan. The highest prices paid are for the Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga varieties. The large-grained Beluga caviar is from the Beluga sturgeon, a fish which is unrelated to the Beluga whale, a mammal (the word "beluga" derives from the Russian word for white). The golden Sterlet caviar was once a favorite of czars, shahs, and emperors. Currently, the dwindling fishing yields consequent to overfishing and pollution have resulted in the creation of less costly, though popular, caviar-quality roe alternatives from the whitefish and the North Atlantic salmon.
The harvest and sale of black caviar have been banned in Russia since August 1, 2007. The ban extends for 10 years, but scientific research and the artificial breeding of black caviar fish are exempted.
In the early 1900s, Canada and the United States were the major caviar suppliers to Europe; they harvested roe from the lake sturgeon in the North American midwest, and from the Shortnose sturgeon and the Atlantic sturgeon spawning in the rivers of the Eastern coast of the United States. Today, however, the Shortnose sturgeon is rated Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of endangered species and rated Endangered per the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Current aquaculture of sturgeon is an economically viable means of sustainable, commercial caviar production, especially in Spain, France, Uruguay, and California. Hackleback caviar is a popular, inexpensive product of this industry. Paddlefish, a sturgeon cousin, is also farmed in increasing numbers.
Recently, the amount of allowed wild fish harvesting has been decreased, consequently increasing caviar prices. In September 2005, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned the import of Caspian Sea Beluga caviar, to protect the endangered Beluga sturgeon; a month later, the ban included Beluga caviar from the entire Black Sea basin. In January 2006, CITES, the convention for trade in endangered species, announced they were "unable to approve the [caviar] export quotas" for 2006 from wild fish stocks. In January 2007, this ban was partly lifted, allowing the sale of 96 tons of caviar, 15% below the official 2005 level.
An obvious sturgeon caviar imitation is Danish black coloured lumpsucker caviar, which is sold throughout Europe in small glass jars. It can also be found red coloured. A more expensive sturgeon caviar alternative, sold in Sweden and Finland, is the caviar from the vendace. In Finland caviars from the burbot and the common whitefish are also sold.
In some eastern european countries, such as Ukraine, "Ikra" also refers to an eggplant spread which is often referred to as "poor man's caviar."
In the vegetarian foodstuffs market, Algae-based imitation caviar is produced and sold as a caviar alternative.