Once a delicacy of choice of French kings, Russian tzars and Persian shahs alike, wild sturgeon caviar today has all but vanished from the world’s finest tables. The reason? Sturgeons from the Caspian Sea are today the most threatened group of animals in the world – all because of our insatiable appetite for their unfertilized eggs. Beluga caviar is one of the most expensive foods, fetching up to $10,000 a kilo, and its wild supplies are dwindling. Will caviar continue to symbolize opulence or will it fade into oblivion? And is there a sustainable way to satisfy one’s craving for caviar?
As a little girl growing up in Russia, I was blissfully unaware of caviar’s luxury cachet. In fact, I remember being almost force-fed black caviar, brought by a relative from the Caspian region, lest the precious product goes off. To this day, I can’t say I really enjoy eating caviar, not least because the Caspian sturgeon fishery is marred with overexploitation, corruption and outright crime. In 2006, international trade in wild sturgeons and caviar was banned and, despite the relaxation of some sanctions since then, the industry has yet to fully recover.
So where does the caviar sold in high-end gastronomic and cosmetic stores come from? The good news is that the trade ban gave impetus to aquaculture, and today several countries including Italy, Spain and even Saudi Arabia are producing caviar from farmed sturgeons. In Canada, Northern Divine has become the first certified black organic producer, recommended as the best ‘green’ choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. And did you know that there was such thing as vegan caviar? It is actually caviar-resembling seaweed often used as a food prop for film and TV production.
And how about the use of caviar in skincare products? And why is it being used there in the first place? It is due to arginine, an ingredient that functions as an antioxidant that helps build collagen production. And while the jury is still out on whether it actually helps with anti-ageing when applied topically to the skin, the Swiss luxury cosmetics brand La Prairie, which charges over $200 for Skin Caviar range products, says it sources its caviar from organic farms instead of from the wild.
However, if you would rather wear caviar rather than eat it or slap it on your face, you can do that, too! The award-winning German fashion brand Kaviar Gauche will be a feast for your eyes. The brand’s co-creators — Alexandra Fischer-Roehler and Johanna Kühl — both graduated from ESMOD Berlin, the fashion school that pioneered an International Masters Programme on Sustainability in Fashion. Johanna Kühl explains the idea behind the brand name as “luxury with a hint of rebellion and laissez-faire“.
So it seems that caviar, with its palate- and complexion-pleasing qualities, is here to stay, even though it may not be to everyone’s taste.