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Ossetra (also Oscietra, Osetra, or Asetra) caviar is one of the most prized and expensive types of caviar (eclipsed in price only by Beluga caviar). It is obtained from the Ossetra sturgeon which weighs 50-400 pounds and can live up to 50 years.
Ossetra caviar varies in color from deep brown to gold. Lighter varieties are more sought after, as they have the richest flavor and come from the oldest of sturgeon. Golden Ossetra is a rare form of Ossetra caviar, and is golden-yellow in color with a very rich flavor.
The word Ossetra is the transcription of the genitive case form "осетра" (osetra, 'of sturgeon') of the Russian word "осётр" (osyotr 'sturgeon') from the phrase икра осетра (ikra osetra, 'caviar of sturgeon'). At one time, the term "ossetra" simply referred to Russian sturgeon species harvested for this type of caviar.
In Russian, there are different names for the species of sturgeon that live in various territories such as Beluga (Huso huso), Sevruga (Acipenser stellatus) and Sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus). The name Ossetra corresponds to the species Acipenser gueldenstaedtii, which is much smaller than Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), and has a firmer texture. In the territory of the Russian Federation dwells another type of sturgeon, Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser Baerii), which is farmed all over the world because it can adapt to a wider range of habitats. It begins to produce caviar faster than Acipenser gueldenstaedtii.
Throughout the entire history of black caviar consumption, reference to Ossetra was made only to the fish that was caught first in Imperial Russia, then the USSR, and now in the Russian Federation.
Today, Caspian Ossetra is facing extinction in its native habitat. Farming sturgeon is the only way to continue the production of high-quality caviar. Continuous drastic declines in natural sturgeon populations over the past 30 years plus a high market demand for caviar have led the way for sturgeon farming, mainly for the production of caviar. Russia, Iran, members of the European Union, China and the USA were among the first; however, for the very same reasons countries outside the natural range of sturgeons also became involved (e.g. Uruguay, Arabian countries, Israel, and more recently Vietnam). Israel is a major producer of Russian Ossetra Caviar (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii). Branded as "Karat Caviar" recent exports are now available in the United States in order to meet the demand for caviar since there has been no 2009 issue for wild Caspian Caviar production. Farms for breeding sturgeon and caviar are in Iran and Israel; although the religious views of Muslims and Jews do not allow them to eat caviar, as it's not kosher or halal, it doesn't stop these areas from farming fish. A group of companies referred to as Russian Caviar House, exclusively sell and distribute authentic Russian Osetra Caviar due to their affiliation with DIANA Fish Trading, LLC, which manufactures 80% of all legal sturgeon caviar in Russia. On July 17th, Black Caviar Company partnered with Russian Caviar House, following a decade-long halt prohibiting the import of Russian caviar - the partnership enables Black Caviar Company to sell Russian black caviar within the United States.
As with other caviars, ossetra is traditionally served on blinis with crème fraiche. Lower-grade varieties of caviar are used as stuffing in many seafood dishes, and some meat dishes. Caviar is often added to salads as well.