Caviar For Commoners...and Vegans


The roe of the common Carp makes a reasonably good caviar and can be bought from large US sources, such as Stoller Fisheries in Spirit Lake Iowa. Some report that carp caviar taste nearly as good as Russian or "Beluga" caviar. We're not sure of this but would welcome a comment from anyone who has been in a position to compare. Note: The commercial labeling of roe from whitefish, carp, and paddlefish as "caviar" is reportedly disallowed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, carp roe are sold salted, just as sturgeon caviar are. The processing is the same; only the species are different.

Carp roe are not black like sturgeon roe. Carp roe will be a yellow-orange color, as shown here. The sustainability of Carp caviar is associated with the fact that there is an almost endless supply of highly invasive, non-native carp that have spread into ecosystems where they truly do not belong, and where they are destroying water quality and native fisheries through their aggressive feeding behavior. We will never run out (unfortunately) and supporting the market for carp eggs is a good thing from an ecosystems viewpoint.

This good news builds on the fact that the various Sturgeon, the source of what is officially labeled "caviars," are rapidly being made extinct, primarily by excessive commercial harvesting and poaching. Anything to help shift market interest to a more sustainable alternative is helping to protect the Beluga and other endangered roe fish such as the Paddlefish.

There is an important caveat to this good news story, however. Carp do well in warm, slow-flowing, or still waters, and are pollution tolerant, which means they often inhabit urban rivers and lakes. They feed upon shallow, muddy shoals, comsuming aquatic weeds, insect larvae, snails, young fish, and so on. If the mud they consume with these items is contaminated, they may be ingesting the contamination directly. Therefore, for the time being, it would be adviseable to avoid eating carp eggs harvested from the well known " PCB hotspots", such as the various "Areas of Concern" in the Great Lakes Basin. Instead of this being a reason to despair, it is one more reason to support USEPA mandated, as well as voluntary, PCB cleanup or harbor restoration projects.

Little Known and Wondrous Caviar Facts:

For Greek cuisine, the delicate roe of carp are naturally cured and aged over one year to become Tarama. Tarama can be blended with oil, lemon juice and chopped onions to make Taramosalata, a caviar spread.

A vegan caviar product known as Cavi*Art is available from the UK. As they offer several "varieties" and do not seem to have the obnoxious labeling restrictions as FDA has imposed in the US, the presentation is pretty interesting. Let us know if you have tried them!