Cruelty-free caviar is now being touted as a way to enjoy the luxury of caviar without risking the lives of female sturgeons. Caviar is the roe – or eggs – of the sturgeon fish. Many other types of eggs, such as salmon, are also referred to as caviar, but only eggs from the critically endangered beluga sturgeon fish command the highest prices.
What’s the difference between cruelty-free caviar and regular caviar?
I always assumed female sturgeons were killed for their eggs. And they were, not too long ago. But this is changing. Sturgeon are much too rare and valuable these days, so caviar producers are searching for ways to keep them alive so they can be used repeatedly.
The new method, described on this article from NPR, is pretty hi-tech. Producers give ultrasounds to the fish to determine when the eggs are perfectly mature. Then, an enzyme is administered to the fish to induce labour, and the caviar “can be pumped from the belly with gentle massaging.” I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty cruel to me.
The more traditional alternative to this process is giving the sturgeons c-sections. But this is risky, as it can cause infection and harm the fish’s ovaries, reducing overall egg production.
Is caviar vegetarian?
Technically, cruelty-free caviar could be considered vegetarian. One could argue that the lives of female sturgeon are risked in the extraction process, but so are the lives of the chickens and cows used in the dairy and egg industry.
Cruelty-free caviar is a fail
A great deal of cruelty can be excused if you believe anything short of killing is kind. Most vegetarians are aware that something unpleasant happens to male baby chicks and veal cows. But we find it fairly easy to excuse keeping animals imprisoned for our supposed benefit. Is “gently massaging” the eggs out of a sturgeon less cruel than simply killing it? The truth is, we can’t really know what the sturgeon would prefer. What we CAN know is that we don’t need caviar, “cruelty-free” or otherwise. Besides, among other things, its a dangerous source of mercury!
You don’t need caviar, but what if you like it? Thankfully, there are a number of options available. So, if you like caviar, why not try one of the vegan versions already on the market? A company called Kelp Caviar, out of Montreal, impressed the judges on Canada’s Dragon’s Den. It’s affordable, running approximately $10 a jar, and comes in a variety of flavours. There is also a Danish company, called Caviart, which has been on the market for a long time, and is easily available online.
I’m planning to order both, and I’ll let you guys know what I think!
Has anyone out there tried the vegan version? If you have, please comment and let me know! I’d love to know what it’s like. Confidentially, I bet many restaurants are using the vegan version already as a garnish, since it’s a lot cheaper.
If you liked this post, it’s part of a mini-series on luxury foods you might enjoy reading.