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California RollRoe from the flying fish and the smelt—tobiko and masago, respectively, are used as a colorful and crunch garnish. Photo by Lekyu | SXC.




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May 2005
Last Updated June 2010

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Fish, Seafood & Caviar

Caviar Glossary

Page 6: Lumpfish, Osetra & Other Terms With L, M, N & O


This is Page 6 of a ten-page glossary. If you’d like to suggest additional words for inclusion, or think we should consider other definitions than those we have provided, use the Contact Us link on this page. You may also enjoy one of our 60+ other food glossaries.

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Lumpfish is a North Atlantic Ocean fish. The caviar is largely produced in Iceland. The roe is small, hard, and crunchy. The eggs are dyed black, red or yellow-gold. The food coloring is not stable, however and when used to garnish foods, the color tends to bleed (especially into moist foods like sour cream). It is readily available, and is generally used when one is seeking an inexpensive solution.


Lumpfish caviar. Photo courtesy

Roe does not officially become caviar until it is salted. The Russian term for “little salt,” referring to a method of delicately salting fine caviar. The less salt, the better the caviar; similarly, better-quality caviar requires less salting, so malossol indicates the best. Less salt also makes the caviar more perishable. Malossol is as little as 3.5% salt (by weight), up to 5%; compared to 10% for commercial barrel-salted caviar or 11% for supermarket lumpfish caviar. Salt preserves the freshness and also enhances the flavor.


The word “malossol” on the tin indicates that little salt has been used to process the caviar. This implies a finer caviar, where the taste does not need much enhancement. Photo courtesy


Also called capelin caviar: roe from the smelt fish. The eggs are small, fluorescent and mild in flavor. They are used for sushi—in gunkan-maki (boat sushi) shown in the photo at right, as a garnish for California rolls and other rolls, shown in the photo at the top of the page and to garnish other foods, including deviled eggs.


Masago roe sushi.

Acipenser naccarii is a cousin of Caspian caviar. The fish swam in prehistory in the rivers of what is now Spain. It light grey eggs are most likened to Beluga caviar, although it is a much smaller fish. The Beluga reaches a weight of __ kilos in  Naccarii can begin harvesting at 18 years of age, It has intramuscular fat, which makes the meat more flavorful. It can grow to 100 kilos, although commercially it is farmed to 8 to 20 kilos in weight. If you see Beluga caviar for sale, confirm if it is Caspian Beluga or Spanish Naccarii.


Naccarii Caviar
Naccarii caviar. Photo courtesy The Rogers Collection.


At this time the world’s only certified organic caviar farm, Riofrio Caviar Farm in the Sierra Nevada region of southern Spain, produces its caviar from the Adriatic sturgeon (Acipenser naccarii). Riofrio’s is considered the only true organic caviar farm because unlike most other sturgeon fisheries, no hormones are introduced to the controlled environment to speed up the maturity rate of the fish. The fish are also contained in pens with fresh mountain water that is untreated with additives (e.g., antibacterials). It gets high grades for the quality, based on the stock selection, breeding process, clean living environment, freshness and overall quality.


Organic Caviar
Organic caviar is available at

Sold under the brand name Pure Organic Caviar, it is prepared with organic salt in the traditional malossol style.


The Osetra sturgeon or Russian Sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) is a migratory fish which spawns in rivers each spring. It is a medium-size sturgeon, and can weigh up to 440 pounds. The female does not mature to produce eggs for 12 to 15 years. The species is native to Germany’s major rivers, and the osetra sturgeon was a banquet fish for royalty throughout the Middle Ages. The caviar has a gentle pop and a light, nutty flavor (hazelnut) that pairs well with Champagne, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.

Osetra has an oilier, silkier, melts-in-your-mouth texture than Beluga. Many caviar connoisseurs prefer Osetra to Beluga (including us!). Wild Osetra caviar is harvested mainly in Russian and Iran; it is farmed around the world.* The eggs can be golden yellow (see Golden Osetra) to brownish in color, and are of medium size (about 3mm diameter).


Osetr Sturgeon
The Osetra sturgeon and its roe.

Osetra from the Caspian is packaged with a yellow lid. Recently we have seen various types of farmed Baerii and other sturgeon caviar packaged in the blue tin of the Beluga. On the one hand, it’s confusing to the consumer who equates the blue tin with Beluga caviar. On the other hand, there may not be any more Beluga caviar in another few years, so why not appropriate the “trade dress?” The name is spelled ascietra, asetra, osietra, ossetra and other variations, after the Russian osiotr. (See the note under Beluga about the 2006 ban on export of Russian caviar.) Osiotr is the Russian word for sturgeon. Thus, literally, any sturgeon can produce “osetra caviar.” For the purpose of buying caviar, though, clarify that “osetra caviar” is Russian sturgeon caviar or one of the farmed varieties (typically its cousin Acipencer baerii baerii, the Siberian sturgeon). See a longer discussion of this confusing term.

*Asia, Bulgaria, France, Israel, Italy, and Spain are some of the larger producers.


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