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Don't fall prey to the Caviar Con

01 Jan, 2015 by Vir Sanghvi

Don't fall prey to the Caviar Con

It’s the ultimate luxury ingredient. And you get it at hotels at restaurant prices. So should you splash out at a celebration and order it?

Absolutely not. You’d be an idiot to spend money on it.

Here’s why: caviar is the roe of the sturgeon from the Caspian Sea. Different varieties of sturgeon (Beluga, Sevruga, etc.) yield different kinds of caviar. In the old days, when the Caspian was bordered by Iran and the Soviet Union, fishing for sturgeon was tightly regulated and quality was guaranteed.

Then, in the 1990s after the Soviet Union broke up, the different republics that bordered the Caspian abandoned all regulation and it became a free for all. Today all kinds of dodgy rubbish gets mislabelled (the cheapest caviar is sold as expensive Beluga etc.) and often the caviar is harvested before it is ready. It has got to the stage where the sturgeon is now an endangered species and wild-life activists urge us not to buy caviar from the former Soviet republics.

But the trade continues. Rubbish caviar is sold to big Western brands who then package it in fancy tins and sell it to Asian countries and duty-free shops. Some of this caviar comes to wholesalers in India who add their own mark-up and sell it to hotels.

The caviar trade works on the assumption that most people don’t know what caviar should taste like and can’t tell the difference anyway. Plus, it is a special treat so there is virtually no repeat business. So it doesn’t matter if consumers don’t like it.

If you pay huge prices for caviar at an Indian hotel, 99% of the time you will get rubbish with a 10,000% mark-up. So do not touch it.

The world is moving towards farmed caviar from France, Uruguay and America. But so far, farmed caviar has not made it to India. Instead we get the worst Caspian caviar in the world.

Written By

Vir Sanghvi is India's best-known food writer and TV host. His book, Rude Food won the Cointreau Award for Best Food Literature book in the world and his food and travel shows on channels such as TLC and NDTV Good Times have won numerous awards and continue to be watched by millions.

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