As one of the world's most expensive delicacies, the pricing of caviar is far from transparent. A 30-gram tin of sturgeon caviar can range from $20 to upwards of $300! What contributes to such a huge difference? Several factors are at play.
The type of fish
Sturgeon is the common name of 27 species of fish belonging to the family Acipenseridae. Different species vary in size, lifespan, and egg production. For example, Acipenser Baerii sturgeons are smaller in size, usually weighing around 55lbs, and mature early. Females start to lay eggs after 6 years and we start to harvest when they are 10 years or older. The eggs they produce are smaller and darker in color. On the other hand, the largest Huso Dauricus or Kaluga sturgeons can reach 2000lbs and we don’t harvest them until they reach 20 years of age. These rare sturgeons lay beautiful golden-brown eggs that are large in size and firm in texture, which are several times more expensive than Baerii caviar.
Lake Sturgeon - Tennessee Aquarium
The production process
The production process of caviar involves the environment in which the sturgeons are raised; the harvesting techniques; the selecting and grading standards; and the curing and maturation stage. Some sturgeons are raised and harvested in industrial settings, where the eggs are packed and sold fresh. At Astrea, our sturgeons are raised in high altitude farms on the Himalayan foothills, they thrive in mountain spring water and pure air. The harvests are done quickly aiming to cause as little stress as possible, and only the largest, firmest and most vibrantly colored eggs are selected. These eggs are then cured with a minimum amount of salt to preserve their original flavors, and aged for 3 months to allow salt to be fully integrated before packing. This artisanal production process takes time and requires the most skilled and experienced technicians in the industry.
Supply vs demand
The Economics 101 rule of thumb is also an important factor. Some sturgeon species such as albino Beluga sturgeons are extremely rare and they take decades to mature, the supply of such caviar is naturally very low. Meanwhile, the reputation and market appeal of these ultra-luxurious delicacies are in high demand among the wealthy, keeping the prices high. On the other hand, some species can be farmed on a relatively large scale to meet the demand of consumers.
Although the pricing of caviar can be confusing, it all comes down to the above 3 factors. Therefore, when shopping for caviar, always pay attention to the species you are buying, try to find out as much as possible about how the caviar is produced, and understand the market forces of supply and demand.