Caviar is considered one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, and with variations like almas white beluga retailing for $25,000 per KG there is no other food on earth valued quite so highly. Not all salted eggs are created equal however, and costs can vary by numerous digits depending on what you’re buying and who you’re buying from. Even though some types of caviar and salted fish roe are far more affordable than others, most consumers don’t fully realize why their caviar costs as much as it does. From rare beluga caviar all the way down to salty capelin roe, there are so many cured fish, crustacean and mollusk eggs accessible to the public that prices can easily confuse anyone without caviar buying experience.
Why Is Caviar So Expensive?
The price of a specific caviar can generally be broken down into the following 5 cost factors:
- Type of fish (species scarcity / availability)
- Time it takes to produce roe (maturation)
- Harvesting and manufacturing (process)
- Quality of the salted roe (grading)
- Supply & demand (sourcing & popularity)
Obviously, this generalization is not all-encompassing, and cannot narrow down every cost component of each roe type from every available source world-wide, but, by individually breaking down the above 5 items we can get a broader view of how caviar products get their price tags. All of the expenses incurred by caviar producers are strongly connected to both the rarity of the eggs themselves and all their associated processing costs. Let’s dive into the 5 main expense factors for a closer examination .
The Type of Fish Affects Caviar Price
A caviar’s market value is largely based the type of animal it came from. We’ve talked about the difference between true caviar and salted fish roe before, and it is worth mentioning again for this “caviar’s price explained” blog. True caviar, the priciest of the salted fish roes, comes from sturgeon, a species group that has been pushed to near extinction by mankind.
Sturgeon caviar was first launched into high-society status at the height of Russian Imperialism during the late 19th century. Ever since then, the species scarcity factor has been the leading determinant of price. Caviar’s value as a luxury good was in fact the main reason why wild sturgeon roe supply decreased so rapidly throughout the 20th century. Catching desirable caviar producing fish quickly became the most profitable venture available for fishermen which, in-turn, created more incentives to harvest sturgeon species, increasing their rarity and pushing the price of true caviar higher.
Quality of the Caviar (Caviar Grades)
Much like other products, a caviar’s price will fluctuate up and down depending on its quality. Each individual fish roe is unique, and even grains from the same species of fish harvested from the same source at the same time can vary drastically between specimens. A roe will be respectively higher or lower in price when it is given an above or below average grade by those producing it.
Caviar sellers use a number grading systems to rate egg color, size, maturity, separation, uniformity, fragrance, lucidity, firmness and flavor. The initial grading might occur before any salt curing has taken place, as the eggs are inspected to identify those visual indicators that disqualify the product from being considered “#1”. Grade 1, or A-Grade, is a title reserved only for roe that ideally satisfies the “norm” of that species. Grade 2, or B-Grade, tends to have smaller, wetter and softer beads than #1 product, which is why it is always cheaper.