True caviar comes from sturgeon roe. There are several species of sturgeon that produce caviar: Beluga, Osetra, Sevruga, Sterlet, Kaluga, American sturgeon, etc. Beluga caviar is the most prized and expensive.
Sturgeon caviar production in Greece is relatively new, started in the 1990s. Thesauri, located in Arta, Greece, is the only sturgeon Greek caviar producer. They farm-raise Russian, Siberian, and Beluga sturgeons and produce black caviar sold internationally under the Thesauri brand.
- Drawing inspiration from Varvakis’s pioneering efforts, Thesauri Caviar imported the first sturgeon eggs from Astrakhan to their aquafarm in 1992.
- The company strategically chose the bay of Amvrakikos for its ultra-modern facilities, ensuring the ideal breeding environment that mimics the sturgeon’s natural habitat.
- Excellent quality artesian water bubbling up from great depths is flowing through the tanks via an open circuit of continuous flow, ensuring hygiene, safety and welfare of the fish.
- After their fourth year of life, the males are separated from the females by ultrasound. Female sturgeons lay their first eggs at about 10 years of age, depending on the species.
- Each fish is monitored by ultrasound to determine when it is ready, and when the time is right, the eggs are removed by cesarean section. For example, the Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser Baerii) lays eggs relatively early (ultrasound monitored even before 10), while the European sturgeon Huso huso, from which we obtain Beluga caviar, usually lays eggs after 18.
Greek Caviar Varieties Offered by Thesauri:
- Derived from the Huso huso sturgeon, the largest in the Acipenseridae family.
- Offers a unique taste that captures the essence of the sea breeze, salt, and seaweed.
- Sourced from the Russian sturgeon Acipenser gueldenstaedtii.
- Features a buttery texture with a balanced nutty-fruity flavor.
- Obtained from the Siberian sturgeon, Acipenser Baerii.
- Recognized for its medium-sized pearls with a balanced hazelnut aftertaste.
Global Caviar Exports
The global caviar market experienced interesting dynamics in 2022. Overall, caviar exports amounted to a staggering US$509.2 million. While this marked a 12.7% increase from 2018, it did represent a slight decrease of 12.2% from the previous year, 2021, which stood at $580.3 million.
Differentiating Traditional and Alternative Caviar
An intriguing distinction in the caviar market lies between traditional and alternative caviar:
- Traditional Caviar: This refers to caviar sourced from the internal egg masses of wild sturgeon, primarily from the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean’s Black Sea. In 2022, sales of traditional caviar constituted $199.5 million, which is approximately 39.2% of the global export, a significant rise from its 31.8% share in 2021.
- Alternative Caviar: Contrary to traditional, this type is derived from fish other than sturgeon. Interestingly, revenues from these alternative sources totaled $309.7 million, about 1.5 times the total of exported traditional caviar. Despite this, it’s worth noting that the average unit price for traditional caviar was substantially higher, being almost 12 times the average unit price of alternative caviar.
Greece in Traditional Caviar Market
The traditional caviar market is predominantly driven by five major exporters: mainland China, Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium. These countries, combined, dominated the market, accounting for a whopping 76% of global traditional caviar sales.
Greece secured a respectable 1% of global caviar sales (1,9 million $), and exhibited a promising growth rate of 39.8% from 2021 to 2022.
The unit price of caviar is an essential metric in understanding its perceived value in the global market. Traditional caviar’s average unit price stood at $214,056 per ton in 2022, slightly down by 1.6% from 2021.
Greece showcased an impressive average unit price of $241,125 per ton for traditional caviar in 2022, marking a remarkable growth of 39.8% from the previous year.
History of Caviar in Greece
Sturgeon and caviar was known in ancient Greece, with mentions by Herodotus and Aristotle. Ancient Greeks, known for their expertise in seafaring, ventured from the Aegean Sea through the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits to the Black Sea, driven by their demand for marine treasures.
Sturgeons are an endemic species in Greece, they used to be found in the Evros Delta and the Aegean Sea, but are now rare.
In 1780s Greeks pioneered the caviar trade, with Ioannis Varvakis establishing production and export from Russia. He was known as the “father of caviar.“
Ioannis Varvakis (1745-1825) was a Greek privateer, merchant, and benefactor who played a significant role in the caviar trade. Born on the Greek island of Psara, Varvakis became a skilled sailor and built his own ship, the St. Andrew, which he offered to the Russian forces during the Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774). After the war, Varvakis sought an audience with Catherine the Great of Russia, who granted him fishing rights in the Caspian Sea and a cash gift.
Varvakis developed a successful fishery enterprise in the northern Caspian Sea, catching sturgeon, white salmon, and other valuable fish. He recognized the passion of Greeks for caviar and sought to export it to Europe.
Varvakis invented a solution to preserve the freshness of caviar eggs during transportation by ship, producing timber boxes that maintained the eggs in good condition without causing alterations. He shipped the product from Astrakhan to Greece by camel or boat through the Volga River, and by 1788, his business employed more than 3,000 workers. Varvakis’s innovations in caviar preservation and transportation helped transform caviar into an international delicacy.
Ioannis Varvakis played a significant role in supporting the Greeks during their fight for independence, especially his native island of Psara. After the devastation of Psara by the Ottoman Navy, he returned to Greece in 1824 to help the displaced inhabitants. He died in Zakynthos on January 10, 1825.
Passionate about promoting education in the newly formed Greek country, Varvakis bequeathed in his will 1 million rubles for the establishment of a high school named Varvakeio in his honor. He also funded the construction of the Varvakeios Agora, the covered market in Athens that is still in use today.
Extracting the caviar
The fish is taken out of the water
A small incision is made
The caviar is extracted
The incision is sutured and the fish returns into the water. More eggs can be extracted from the same fish after one year