The word “caviar” conjures images of decadence, with its lustrous beads of salted sturgeon roe. But not all caviar is created equal. There are numerous types that vary in flavor, texture, color, and prestige. From the prized beluga to the mild American sturgeon, each imparts its own tasting nuances. Read on for an overview of the major caviar varieties and what distinguishes them.

Beluga Caviar

Hailing from the beluga sturgeon native to the Caspian Sea, beluga caviar is considered the finest and most expensive in the world. Its large gray to black pearls measure over 3.5mm in diameter and offer an incomparable buttery, nutty sweetness with smooth texture. Beluga sturgeon can live up to 100 years, and their roe improves with age.

Overfishing has made beluga caviar extremely rare. Strict quotas allow limited beluga fishing, with global production under 200 tons a year. Expect to pay over $10,000 per kilogram for the choicest beluga caviar. Its size, depth of flavor, and status as a delicacy for royalty cement beluga as the premier caviar.

Osetra Caviar

Osetra caviar originates from two Eurasian sturgeon species, Acipenser gueldenstaedtii and Acipenser persicus. Its beads are medium-sized, ranging from 2.2 to 2.8mm. Shades vary from dark brown to golden yellow-brown. Osetra offers a robust, nutty flavor with a velvety texture and notes of dried fruit.

Osetra is easier to cultivate than beluga, making it more accessible. Quality and taste depend on the sturgeon’s age, with older specimens producing better eggs. Osetra is considered a premium caviar, with prices starting around $350 per 100 grams.

Sevruga Caviar

The smallest of the classic caviar types, sevruga pearls measure approximately 1.5mm in diameter. Their steel gray to black hue comes from the sevruga sturgeon, native to the Caspian and Black Seas. Sevruga caviar provides an intense briny burst with a hint of sweetness and smooth mouthfeel.

Like beluga and osetra, overfishing greatly depleted sevruga stocks. Aquaculture has increased sustainable production, making sevruga more available than other Caspian Sea caviars. It remains an upscale delicacy, priced between $200-$600 for 100 grams.

American Caviar

As suggested by its name, this caviar hails from American sturgeon species like the white sturgeon. The light brown to gray beads are quite small compared to premium Caspian caviar, at only 1mm diameter. While smaller in size, American caviar delivers excellent flavor with floral, nutty notes.

Sustainable aquaculture makes American caviar affordable and ethical to enjoy. It costs between $30-$150 per 100 grams. American caviar’s accessibility has increased its popularity as an everyday caviar.

Salmon Caviar

Salmon caviar comes from multiple salmonid species and has a distinctive bright orange or red hue. The small eggs provide a delicate flavor with a mildly salty finish. Chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon varieties are common sources. Fish farms sustainably produce most salmon caviar.

Given its affordability and vibrancy, salmon caviar is a popular choice for appetizers, sushi, and hors d’oeuvres. Expect to pay $20-$60 for 100 grams.

Paddlefish Caviar

Paddlefish caviar originates from two American paddlefish species. Their eggs are black in color and appear similar to sevruga caviar, albeit smaller. Paddlefish caviar tastes sweeter than sturgeon caviar with a smoother texture.

Overfishing of paddlefish in the 1900s significantly decreased numbers. Today’s sustainably farmed paddlefish provide an eco-friendly caviar alternative at $40-$100 per 100 grams.

Hackleback Caviar

The Tennessee River is home to the hackleback sturgeon that produces this American caviar. Its beads look like miniature osetra pearls with a dark brown hue. Hackleback caviar has a refined, nutty flavor with less saltiness than other caviars.

Relatively low costs around $20 per 100 grams make hackleback a wallet-friendly everyday caviar. Strict fishing regulations help maintain hackleback numbers.

With such an array of options, there’s a caviar to suit every taste and budget. Discover your perfect caviar match, whether it’s luxurious beluga or the salmon roe’s vibrant pop. Armed with knowledge about these caviar varieties, you can indulge in this decadent delicacy.