According to experts the black caviar world market is estimated at 1200-1500 tons a year, which meets a demand by 20-25% only.
Beluga, sturgeon, sterlet, stellate, sturgeon and black caviar are considered traditional for Russian cuisine. Even though this image was created artificially for the most part, «from the top», during the last two hundred years only; even though the greater part of the surgeon species in Moscow river died out during the little ice age in XIV-XVIII and «traditionally Russian» sturgeons were imported to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg from Volga and faraway Caspian. It is a fact: in XX century the black caviar and delicate sturgeon meat became as Moscow-Russian-Soviet brand, as vodka, the Bolshoi Theatre and Yuri Gagarin.
Black caviar in the USSR
Commercially until the mid 80’s the USSR was always the world’s leader in the sturgeon catch. In the Caspian Sea they fished out up to 28 thousands tons of sturgeons and produced up to 2500 tons of black caviar. It made 90% of the world’s caviar market. The USSR actually possessed the monopoly on export of the sturgeon caviar.
The situation started to change by the time of the USSR disintegration. First of all, starting with 1950’s the sturgeon’s population began to decrease. Industrial development and particularly hydroschemes construction in the time of Stalin led to river pollution. The Caspian ecosystem degraded rapidly. It affected the conditions of natural reproduction of the sturgeon species. The brands of «Stalin’s industrialization» and «Russian cuisine» turned out to be mutually exclusive.
The second reason of the sturgeon species extinction was a rapacious fish catch – poaching. It existed at all levels: there were individual poachers armed with net and electric rod as well as catch and production against the planned quota. In the latter case there were chains out of fishing artels, directors of processing manufactures, workers of the Ministry of trade of the USSR and foreign offshores. The same producers provided the caviar both for official and black markets.
Caviar made of oil and algae
An ordinary Soviet citizen could not get the black caviar and starting with the end of 1960’s people could buy a jar of «Iskra» instead. The brand «Iskra» is made up from the Russian words meaning «artificial» and «caviar» and was actually specifically-processed chicken eggs protein; for the first time this technology was developed by Institute of Hetero-organic Compounds. It had nothing in common with the real caviar and did not even look like it, and there were rumors that it was made of oil or sprat’s eyes (the more absurd the city legend is, the more convincing it appears to be). Then there were other technologies to create a protein caviar using gelatin, soy or milk powder.
This pseudo-caviar is still available for purchase, although the present-day analogous (or imitated) caviar is much more multifarious and usually made of real fish meat (for instance, hunchback salmon) and even looks like a real one. There is also artificial caviar for vegetarians and healthy life-style followers: it is made of seaweed. Also the caviar of other food fish kinds like lumpfish, halibut, cod, capelin, pike is tuned to look like the black one. This caviar tastes pretty good as it really is but with added dyestuff and flavor enhancers it makes no difference from the protein imitation.