When you’re looking for the best caviar, Osetra is near the top of the list, bested only by Beluga in price but not always taste. This type of prized, coveted caviar comes from the Osetra sturgeon, a special type of fish that is bordering on extinction in its native habitats. ‘Osetra’ itself is a Russian word that originally means any type of sturgeon harvested for caviar but has, over time, become the label of this specific fish.
Osetra is a generic term for the species Acipenser gueldenstaedtii, a type of sturgeon that has a firm texture but is relatively small. The Siberian sturgeon, on the other hand, or the Acipenser Baerii is popular because it is able to produce more caviar at a faster rate than the Acipenser gueldenstaedtii. Its original homestead is the Russian Federation territory that is farmed all over the world. Both of these are offered at myCaviar.
Sturgeon are sourced primarily around Russia and there are multiple species in the surrounding territories. You’ll find Beluga, Sevruga, and Sterlet near the Osetra habitats. One of the most common is the Siberian sturgeon because it’s such a hardy species that can adapt to just about any type of ecosystem.
Osetra sturgeon are deep brown or gold in colour and can live up to 50 years, becoming anywhere from 50 – 400 pounds during that time. The lighter shaded fish tend to have the richest flavour, making them more in demand. There are even some sturgeon that have a golden colour to them, although they are the most rare varieties. The caviar from these fish are golden-yellow and very flavourful.
Originally referring to any fish caught in Imperial Russia, ‘Osetra’ now pertains to the Caspian Ossetra on the brink of extinction due to overfishing. Sturgeon farms populate Osetra, but in their native habitat, they are frequently killed for their eggs rather than farmed and milked.
The sturgeon themselves are able to continue reproducing in farms, but may not be in their native habitats much longer due to this practice. Significant declines in the number of sturgeon populations in recent decades are partly attributed to the increase in the market for caviar.
This decline in numbers has led to an increase in artificial cultivation of Ossetra on farms. Countries like Russia, China, USA, and Iran started the first artificial farms, with others following them, helping the overall population of sturgeon to thrive even though their natural environment numbers are declining.
In farms, sturgeon can be checked without any damage to them by ultrasound scans to determine if they are male or female and if they have any eggs ready to be milked. The milking process is also harmless and the fish can be released back into the waters.
Osetra, being more difficult to find and richer in flavour, are impressive when served with any meal and are frequently found at high-level galas and parties.