History of Food

History of Food

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18 is National Caviar Day

Not everyone likes it, not everyone has tried it.  That is the illusiveness of caviar.   The caviar, according to those who have tasted it, has the consistency of butter tha melts in your mouth and leaves a taste of fresh ocean.

Ludwig Bemelmans was quoted saying:  "Caviar is to dining what a sable coat is to a girl in evening dress."  He was an Austrian-American essayist, humorist, novelist, artist and an author of books for children.

When asked what the heck the word caviar means, most people would simply say that it refers to a delicacy with fish eggs as the main ingredient, as the dictionaries define it.

It is a fair definition indeed, but it does not capture its whole essence. The definition failed to state the rich history and other information behind caviar.

Contrary to popular belief, the term caviar does not originate from Russia. (If that is the case, we should be calling it ikra instead of caviar.)

The terms caviarie and caviare does have its etymological origin from a Turkish term havyar. This, in turn, came from an Iranian form khayah.

Caviar is not a new food..  It is a food that dates back to ancient times and it has crossed all boundaries of practically every country around the world.  With a lengthy history, even the sturgeon, the fish whose roe alone under FDA rulings may be classified as caviar, is a prehistoric fish that has been around for 250 million years, surviving since the time of, and outlasting, the dinosaurs. 

References to caviar in literature and art date back almost as far as the sturgeon itself. It has been suggested that by 2400 B.C. ancient coastal Egyptians and Phoenicians had learned to salt and pickle fish eggs to make them last through war, famine or trips at sea. Bas-reliefs at the Necropolis near the Sakkara Pyramid showing fishermen catching fish and removing their eggs support this theory. 

Aristotle, noted that the ancient Greeks were no strangers to caviar either, as “lavish Greek banquets would end with trumpet fanfare announcing the arrival of heaping platters of caviar garnished with flowers.”Some claim it was the Turkish who first coined the word “khavyar” from which the English term “caviar” originates. Others suggest the term “caviar” comes from the Persian word “chav-jar” which translates loosely to “cake of power” or “piece of power.” The Persians considered caviar to be a medicine for a multitude of illnesses, and would eat it in stick form to give them energy and stamina. In the 1240s the first written record of the word “khavyar” was found in the writings of Batu Khan (grandson of Ghengis Khan), while the word first appeared in English print in 1591.

King Edward II proclaimed the sturgeon to be a “royal fish” and decreed that all sturgeon caught in England belonged to the imperial treasury and must be given to the monarch or the gentry. By the middle ages many countries’ had claimed the rights to sturgeon. In Russia, China, Denmark, and France, as well as in England, fishermen had to offer the catch  for fixed rewards.

Caviar was enjoyed in France as early as 1553 according to Rabelais and his work Faits et dits Heroiques du Grand Pantagruet (1553). Meanwhile, the Larousse Gastronomique cites la Dictionnaire du Commerce (1741), mentioned the dish as well: “kavia is beginning to be known in France where it is not despised at the best tables.” Of course, the Russian czars must be mentioned in any discussion of the early popularity of caviar. As the main consumers of caviar in Russia, the czars levied a caviar tax on sturgeon fishermen. It is said that Nicholas II was given 11 tons of the finest caviar each year by his fisherman subjects. The caviar Nicholas II so enjoyed, the small golden eggs of the sterlet sturgeon, were so popular with Russian nobility that the species is all but extinct today.

Before over-fishing in the “new world” almost obliterated their stock of sturgeon as well, many American states also produced caviar by the end of the 19th century. “Until 1900 the United States produced about 150,000 pounds of caviar per year. Most of this domestic caviar came from the Delaware River at Penns Gover, New Jersey. At one time, Hudson River sturgeon were so plentiful that their flesh was referred to as “Albany beef.” This plentiful caviar was not considered the “champagne wishes” delicacy it is today. Sold at a penny a pound, American caviar was served in saloons like modern day beer-nuts. It was hoped that the saltiness of the dish would make bar patrons thirstier and bigger spenders on beer. Some patrons even put caviar in their beer, creating what was called “Albany beer.”

Caviar was nothing new in the “new world."  Native American mothers used to wean their babies on sturgeon roe, but it did gain in popularity throughout the nineteenth century. As US production and exportation of caviar increased, so too did America’s appetite for imported Russian caviar. This led to a fair amount of fraud, as during the “caviar boom” at the end of the nineteenth century, “much of the American caviar harvest shipped to Europe was imported right back to the United States again, labeled as the more coveted ‘Russian caviar.’ In 1900, the state of Pennsylvania issued a report which estimated that 90 percent of the Russian caviar sold in Europe actually came from the US.” This would not be the last time that fraud and caviar went hand in hand.

On how to prepare caviar:
The roe is passed through a fine mesh to separate the eggs. An amount of pure salt is then added to the eggs to prevent them from freezing. The eggs must then be refrigerated between 28 to 31 degrees Fahrenheit.
Caviar grading follows the freezing process. Then the caviar is ready for packing. 4 pound tins are used for this purpose. The caviar makers are called Ikrjanschik. For them to make caviars, they must undergo 10 to 15 years of apprenticeship.

Eating and Serving Suggestions
-It is recommended for persons to take 30 to 50 grams serving of caviar.
-Take caviar in small quantities and savor the taste as the grains burst in your mouth.
-Silver utensils alter the taste of caviar so it must not e used when eating the delicacy.
-Other spices like pepper and other herbs must not be added to the caviar.
-If the taste is too strong, use as spread and eat with bread.
-Caviar can be served with champagne

Nutritional Value
Caviar is categorized as an appetizer in a meal, since it functions the same way as soups do. Caviar has the capability of preparing the digestive systems for other dishes.  Caviar contains only a small amount of calories.
-Protein (25 g per 100 g) (this is about 1 gram of protein per ounce)
-Fat (17g per 100 g)  (this is about 14% of total calories)
-Cholesterol (440mg per 100g)
-Sugar (4 g per 100g)
-Sodium (1700 mg per 100 g)
-Potassium (164 mg per 100 g)
-Phosphorus (330 mg per 100 g)
-Calcium (51 mg per 100 g)
Vitamins such as D, A, C, B vitamines are present in caviars.

A Personal Note
My father was always looking for get rich quick schemes.  He was also an avid fisherman.  Living in the midwest, when Spoonbill (also known as Paddlefish) fishing season opened, he would also go fishing - actually to catch Spoonbill you have snag them, usually at the base of a damn.  He would bring fish after fish home.  I remember him cleaning so many of them.  There were many that would mothers and there was always a lot of roe eggs.  Many years after my father passed, I was in the physician waiitng room readning an Oprah magazine.  She had written an article about some of her new favorite things.  I began reading it and could not believe my eyes.  She was talking about Spoonbill caviar and how she had fell in love with it.  She went on to talk about the price of the caviar - then it was $80 per half ounce.  I couldn't believe it.  I asked the receptionist if she would make a copy of the article for me.  I rushed home, called just about everyone in my family.  We all laughed to hard.  All of the Spoonbill caviar my father discarded with all the fish he caught, he would have easily become a millionaire.

History of Caviar
Caviar Guide

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Nice write...I'm writing about caviar too. In my blog. So I'm invite you to visit my blog: http://kibe-cozinhandocomamigos.blogspot.com/
    and know a little bit of the brazilian cooking.

    Kisses from Brasil.