Acquisition of power and affluence has always been the primary objective for civilizations throughout history. Symbols of affluence and power change from each civilization to the other, however there has always been one element which has not changed throughout centuries, Caviar!
Caviar is a luxury delicacy, consisting of processed, salted, non-fertilized sturgeon roe. The roe can be “fresh” (non-pasteurized) or pasteurized, the latter having much less culinary and economic value.
Usually Caviar is equated to the affluent Europeans, mainly the French. However the trend is changing. Middle East has evolved not only to be a prime consumer of Caviar but also an exporter of the delicacy.
The way the Middle East thinks and eats has been changing. This change has been contributed by the immense expat population, western education, higher income and above all the emergence of the ?Middle East Connoisseur,? (MEC) who is well educated in the arts, theatre and food sometimes surpassing the west. Thereby the number one delicacy for an MEC is Caviar.
Abu Dhabi decided to enter the lucrative caviar market.
Caviar in the desert
Abu Dhabi has decided to open its doors to aid the Middle East Connoisseur and also the international Caviar Market.
The notion of building a caviar market was an audacious and ambitious one for a desert city. But as appetites for luxury goods continue to climb in this affluent city – Abu Dhabi has one of the highest GDPs in the world thanks to its oil and gas reserves – spiking demand for one of the most decadent food products was destined to follow. Also, there is huge potential for marketing caviar on cruise ships that dock in the UAE, in the city’s hotels and among the Arab elite.
The project is a joint partnership between Bin Salem Holding and German company United Food Technologies which specializes in aquaculture technology around the world. In addition to being the first plant of its kind in the Middle East, it’s also the largest recirculation plant worldwide.
The first production of caviar and sturgeon fillets is scheduled for late in 2011, with caviar commercially available in the UAE in the second half of 2012.
As per Robert Harper, Group Commercial Director, Bin Salem, “Abu Dhabi is an ideal location for distribution to the world’s growing markets for high quality caviar and sturgeon fillets. In fact in the UAE alone, demand is around 14 tonnes per year. Cutting edge recirculation technology and digital process control ensures that the sturgeon enjoy an ideal habitat with carefully controlled PH levels, oxygen concentration and regular feeding. Our sturgeon will produce an extremely high quality of caviar and fillets for the local and international markets for many years to come.”
At approximately 50,000 m2, the factory is the largest aquaculture recirculation facility in the world in terms of size and capacity, and has been developed by United Food Technologies AG, world experts in water recirculation technology and equipment, who brought a variety of patent pending water purification, caviar production and digital monitoring systems to Abu Dhabi.
With the demand for high quality caviar increasing year after year, The Royal Caviar Company (TRCC), aiming to reach full capacity within the next four years, is hoping to satisfy approximately 10% of the global supply/demand imbalance, and will become the largest caviar factory in the world offering a supply of caviar on a reliable monthly basis. TRCC is expected to produce 32 tons of caviar a year.
History of caviar
Ancient Persians and the Azeri are the first civilizations which had tasted Caviar. The word caviar comes from the Persian word ?Khag-avar,? meaning ?the roe-generator.?The Persians believed that caviar was a medicine, which can cure many diseases, and also a source of energy.
In the times of the Roman Empire, caviar was regarded as such a cuisine that it was presented among garlands of flowers, and trumpets heralded as it was presented to the royals
In Medieval Russia, caviar was a peasant food, but by the time Shakespeare wrote the famous, ?twas caviary to the general,? caviar had gained its association with connoisseurship and luxury.
An important fact about caviar is that the older the fish, the more elegant and exquisite is the flavor. Many connoisseurs believe the best way to taste the quality of roe is from the back on your hand. There should be no oily residue or fishy smell. As per experts, metal spoon should not be used as this oxidises caviar and ruins flavour.
Traditionally the designation caviar is only used for sturgeon roe from the wild sturgeon species living in the Caspian and Black Sea (Beluga, Ossetra and Sevruga caviars). These caviar varieties, according to their quality (based on flavour, size, consistency and colour) can reach prices between ? 5,000 and ? 12,000 per kilo, and are associated with gourmet and Haute cuisine environments.
As stocks run dangerously low and prices skyrocket the once gourmet food is becoming an almost unobtainable luxury. These exclusive “black pearls”, the pickled eggs of the sturgeon fish, cost up to ?100 for a spoonful of the top beluga variety.
Airlines no longer serve it to first class passengers. The Queen does not serve it at her state banquets. Even the UK’s top restaurants rarely offer it.
Wealthy populations in the EU, Switzerland, Japan, and the US account for ninety-five percent of the multi-million dollar market.
“The global demand for caviar is about 1,200 tons a year, but the supply is only 180 tons,” says Lu Junshan, assistant to the president of Hunan Liangmei Sturgeon Caviar Science and Technology Co, a leading exporter from China.
The new customer of Caviar are People willing to pay the right price for the pleasures of life, who enjoy expensive champagne, people prepared to pay a certain amount of money for a privileged moment. It is becoming more elitist as it becomes more expensive.
The Caspian Sea produces 90 percent of the world’s caviar. Over-fishing and smuggling as well as pollution caused by sewage entry into the Caspian Sea have considerably reduced the sea’s sturgeon population.
Iran is the world’s largest producer and exporter of caviar (annual exports of more than 300 metric tons), followed by Russia. Italy has begun to produce farmed caviar and today is one of the largest producers of farmed caviar in the world.
Caviar from farmed sturgeon used to be a tough sell. Not anymore. These days the demand simply outweighs supply.
Today Caviar Farms have emerged as a global, multimillion dollar business. Sturgeon farms in France, Germany, Italy, China, Israel, Bulgaria and Uruguay are??? investing millions? of dollars to expand facilities and to develop new technologies, like microchip implants, to create roe with a pop as perfect and a flavor as????????? buttery as traditional wild caviar’s.
Farmed caviar production has almost doubled, from about 64 tons in 2005 to 125 tons in 2010, and the growth is expected even more in the coming years with new farms ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? beginning production.
The Farm is setup utilizing sophisticated technologies for recirculation of water, control the temperature, filtering water for reuse and for other farm management services.
For years connoisseurs would not touch farmed eggs, complaining that they tasted like dirty lake water or salty mush. And though processing and storage methods have improved, environmentalists have forced people to give the industry another chance.
“Everyone is thinking more about sustainability,” Terrance Brennan, chef of the restaurant Picholine in New York City, said. “And while it’s different than wild caviar, it’s very good.”
Still, said Michel Emery, the director of sales for the caviar distributor Petrossian, real Caspian Sea eggs still rule. Caviar from fish that swam freely in seawater has a fuller flavor than their farmed counterparts, which are bred in fresh water, Emery said.
Michel Nassour, the Chief Financial Officer of Bin Salem Holding and the team leader of The Royal Caviar Company project from inception, noted out that the advanced technology deployed in TRCC will enable its connoisseur customers to appreciate the high quality caviar that is produced from sustainable resources which is categorized as caviar that has a clean refreshing taste, smell free, very appealing for the first time caviar eaters.
“Our high quality caviar is nutty and tastes a bit crunchy, it is smooth and mouth watering. ?The size is just right by looking at it and you would notice it has a deep black shining color like tiny black pearls”, added Mr. Nassour.
Apart from this Caviar Farming, which is a sustainable way to fulfill the World?s demand for Caviar, Abu Dhabi has been spear-heading many other Green initiatives such as ?Masdar City?, which will rely entirely on?solar energy and other?renewable energy sources, with a?sustainable,?zero-carbon,?zero-waste ecology.
Sturgeon are considered endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Currently, most of the world’s caviar comes from sturgeon fished in the Caspian Sea. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, fishing rights in the Caspian Sea were shared by the Soviet Union and Iran in a tightly-regulated cartel.
Today, five independent states – Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran – share the Sea. With the exception of Iran, there were few restrictions on the sturgeon fishery throughout the 1990s, and little enforcement of the laws that did exist.
As a result, the level of harvest of sturgeon for caviar is widely believed to be unsustainable, especially considering the extensive illegal catch and trade. While the decline has resulted partly from habitat degradation, several sturgeon species have been severely over-harvested for the international caviar market.
Evidence of a near-collapse of the sturgeon fishery is mounting.
In February 2011, Russia lifted its nine-year-old ban on caviar exports to Europe. Statistics from WWF Russia show that in 2010, the sturgeon population was one-fortieth what it had been in the late 1980s.
International Union for Conservation of Nature last year said that 85 percent of sturgeon; one of the oldest families of fishes in existence – are at risk of extinction making them the most threatened group of animals on their IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In the process of becoming affluent we forget ourselves. Caviar is a delicacy, not enjoyed by all, but those who have the means. In trying to satisfy those few, not only are we endangering a beautiful species of fish but our own existence.
Hopefully the domestic farming of Sturgeons will be both good for the economy and also good for wildlife.
Sources: Wikipedia,The Independent, Gulf News, World Wild Life, China Daily, zawya.com, Caviar House & Prunier, http://www.acadian-sturgeon.com, http://www.nrdc.org, The New York Times