Ossetra caviar comes from the Diamond sturgeon (Acipenseridae gueldenstaedtii), also known as Russian sturgeon and Danube sturgeon.
This caviar comes in various shades of grey, brown and brownish-golden, and there is also a golden-yellow version available if you are willing to pay extra. Some of the grey variants are so dark they almost look black.
The Diamond sturgeon is native to the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and Azov Sea basins. It is an endangered species that is very close to extinction in the wild. On the IUCN Red List 3.1 it is listed as Critically Endangered, which is the most serious level of endangered in the wild – the next step would be Extinct in the Wild.
Ossetra caviar from farm-raised Diamond sturgeon is available in the trade, with Israel currently being the leading producer and innovator in the field.
In English, Ossetra caviar is also known as Osetra caviar and Oscietra caviar.
The names Ossetra, Osetra and Oscietra all come from the Russian language and are a transcription of осетра, the genitive form of осётр. In Russian, осётр means sturgeon.
Eating Ossetra caviar
Ossetra caviar has a rich, smooth and complex flavour composition, and there can be lot of variation from one batch to the next. It has been speculated that the diet of the female sturgeon impacts the flavour of the roe.
The expensive golden-yellow Ossetra does taste a bit different than the less expensive gray and brown variants.
In Russia, the traditional way of serving Ossetra caviar is with blinis and smetana.
Lower grade (and therefore less expensive) Ossetra caviar is used as stuffing in certain seafood dishes.
In general, Ossetra caviar is usually less expensive than Beluga caviar, but more expensive than other types of caviar. The Diamond sturgeon is smaller than the Beluga sturgeon and produces smaller eggs. Still, compared to many other types of caviar, the Ossetra caviar has fairly large eggs – just not as large as Beluga. They are for instance bigger than Sevruga eggs. Another notable difference between Ossetra and Beluga is the firmness; Ossetra eggs are usually more firm.
- Order: Acipenseriformes
- Family: Acipenseridae
- Genus: Acipenser
- Species: A. gueldenstaedtii
The males reaches sexual maturity at 11-13 years of age, and the females around 12-16 years. This is one of the reasons why the species is so vulnerable to overfishing. It can live for at least 80 years and reach a weight of 180 kg or more, but old and heavy specimens are exceedingly rare today. The longest specimen on record was 236 centimetres, but 100-140 cm is more common. Old and unverified documents mention Diamond sturgeons being over 4 metres long and weighing up towards 600 kg.
The Diamond sturgeon migrates upstream to spawn in April, May and June. There is one migration in spring and another one in fall. After reaching sexual maturity, the Diamond sturgeon will spawn every 3-5 years.
The Diamond sturgeon is native to the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and Azov Sea basins. In many parts of its former range, there are locations that the sturgeon can no longer reach because of man-made obstacles.
Examples of countries within the natural range of the Diamond sturgeon are Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine. In the past, Diamond sturgeons also lived in Serbia, Austria and Germany, but the species is now extinct there.
The Diamond sturgeon is an introduced species in Latvia, Lithuania and China. It is occasional caught in the Swedish part of the Baltic Sea, but that is rare.
According to a 2020 paper, eggs from three Diamond sturgeon were successfully fertilized with sperm from four American paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). The resulting hybrids were called sturddlefish.
Diamond sturgeon and American paddlefish do not belong to the same family.