Need a caviar cheat sheet? Read on.
Beluga The biggest grains available, these delicate, rich sturgeon eggs range in color from light to dark grey ($85 an ounce from Petrossian; 212-245-2217).
Kaluga These sturgeon eggs from the Amur River, which forms a border between China and Russia, are large, golden and herbaceous ($57 an ounce from Urbani; 800-281-2330).
Kamchatka This style is a blend of caviars, made from broken eggs ($43 an ounce from Caviarteria; 800-4-CAVIAR).
Karaburun A new import from Iran, these eggs are briny, creamy and golden grey ($85 an ounce from Daniel Boulud Private Stock; 800-944-7848).
Osetra These medium-sized grains range from dark brown-gray to golden and are firm and nutty ($49 an ounce from Urbani; 800-281-2330).
Sevruga The smallest caviar, the eggs vary from grey to black ($40 an ounce from Caviar Russe; 800-NY-CAVIAR).
Ship These eggs are grey and mild ($45 an ounce from Caviar Russe).
How to get what you pay for:
Buying Go to a reputable source to avoid black-market or old caviar. Grains should be intact and uniform.
Storing Keep caviar at 26 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit—in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in the tin in a bowl of crushed ice. A small tin will keep for a week or two; an opened one won't keep for more than a day.
Serving Use a nonmetallic spoon, to prevent off flavors.
—Susan Y. Choung
A silver-plated serving set from Calvin Klein ($125; 212-292-9000) would be a perfect showcase for Iranian caviar, available in the U.S. for the first time since 1979, now that trade restrictions have been lifted. Most caviar is cured with salt, but Iranian caviar is often cured with Borax as well, which is added to improve texture and shelf life. Borax is not normally allowed in food, but the amounts used in caviar are minute. The new Iranian caviar comes at a premium: It costs up to 50 percent more than Russian.
Ban the Beluga
That's what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering doing: putting beluga and Kaluga sturgeon from the Caspian Sea and its surrounding rivers—the source for 70 percent of the world's caviar—on the endangered-species list. overfishing and pollution have decimated the sturgeon population (the production of Caspian caviar dropped from 1,200 tons in 1985 to 40 tons last year). as a result, Caspian Sea beluga that sold for $80 an ounce in December 1999 was going for $100 last Christmas, and prices are expected to skyrocket further. but even if a beluga ban goes into effect, don't be surprised to find plenty of contraband tins for sale: 75 percent of caviar is illegally harvested.
Caviar as Health Food
So what if caviar seems hedonistic? The little fish eggs, you may be surprised to learn, may have some big health benefits: One tablespoon (about an ounce) has twice as many heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as the same amount of salmon, and as much iron as 1 1/2 cups of spinach—and only 40 calories and three grams of fat. Unless your doctor has advised you to cut back on salt, the sodium content shouldn't scare you. Each ounce of caviar contains about 240 mg of sodium, as much as you'd get in a handful of potato chips.
Beauty of Caviar
Alterna Age-Free Protectant Smoothing Crème contains omega-3 fatty acids extracted from caviar to tame frizzy hair ($16 for 8.5 ounces; 888-4-ALTERNA).
La Prairie Skin Caviar Luxe Body Cream uses beluga-caviar extracts to make skin appear firmer ($300 for 5.2 ounces; 800-821-5718).
Peter Thomas Roth Power K Eye Rescue relies on vitamin K encapsulated in caviarlike eggs as a remedy for dark under-eye circles ($100 for 0.5 ounces; 800-PTR-SKIN).
Serving Caviar in Style
Just as caviar comes in a range of prices and types, so too do caviar serving sets. The best are simple, so they won't compete with the beauty of the glossy little eggs. Handmade black mother-of-pearl "Caviar Palette" from the Frances Stoia Home Collection ($45; 516-897-8440). "Vesuvius" crystal caviar bowl from Baccarat ($525; 800-777-0100).
Flights of Fancy
Want to be a true caviar aficionado? Taste different types side by side to compare subtle variations in color, texture and flavor. At Tru in Chicago, executive chef Rick Tramonto has designed a glass staircase to show off eight caviars and roes, including Triple-zero beluga and wasabi-infused tobiko roe (676 N. St. Clair; 312-202-0001). Caviar Russe, in New York City serves flights that include salty Jet osetra and ship, a variety just introduced to America (538 Madison Ave.; 212-980-5908). Sideberns in Tampa, Florida, serves samplings of caviars from around the world, such as Manchurian beluga from the Amur River in China (2208 W. Morrison Ave.; 813-258-2233). At Aqua at Bellagio in Las Vegas, a waiter wheels out a marble cart of caviars and weighs your selection right beside your table (3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-693-8199).
—Monica F. Forrestall
Egg on your Face
Mercifully, caviar facials don't actually involve slathering spoonfuls of fish roe all over your face. (Beyond the mess, one can only imagine the scent.) But a growing number of spas around the world do use odorless caviar extracts, rich in vitamins A and E, in treatments aimed at revitalizing tired skin. A few of the best places for a caviar facial: Park Avenue Spa & Fitness at the Swissötel in New York City (212-756-3968); the MGM Grand Spa at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas (702-891-7777); The Regent Spa at the Regent Hong Kong (011-852-2721-1211); and the Vineyard Spa at the Vineyard in Stockcross in Newbury Berkshire, England (011-44-163-552-8770).