January 13, 2010
This post is more of an invitation to comment, than pure informational.
It is about the confusion behind the expression oscietra and its labelling, recently mentioned in a New York Times article. Historically ‘oscietra’ refers to one of the 3 caviar categories (the others are beluga and sevruga) and is made from the roe of the Russian and Persian sturgeon (altough some caviar players include the roe of the Amur and Fringe Barble sturgeon to the oscietra family). The Russian sturgeon’s latin name is Acipenser gueldenstaedtii and the Persian sturgeon’s name is Acipenser persicus. But in the last few years, many others are using the term ‘oscietra’ for caviar made out of the Siberian sturgeon (latin: Acipenser baerii), which could be conceived as a very close cousin to both sturgeon species mentioned above.
The word ‘oscietra’ (or oscietre, osscietre, osetra, asetra, osiotr, etc.) is Russian and its literal meaning is ‘sturgeon’. And therefore, as Mark Zaslavsky, the president of Marky’s, puts it: “All sturgeon is osetra. It’s a commercial term.”
But nevertheless there are many producers and distributors alike who dont label caviar made of the Siberian sturgeon under the ‘oscietra’-flag. And some of them even promote their own brand creation for caviar made out of the Siberian sturgeon.
- Sturia (formerly know as ‘Caviar d’ Aquitaine’)
- Kings Fine Food
- Galilee Caviar
- Holsten (using the brand ‘Baerioska’ made out of the siberian sturgeon)
- Prunier (uses its own brand names for the siberian sturgeon roe, such as Tradition, Héritage, Saint James & Paris)
- Rossinicaviar (offering besides ‘Baerii caviar’ and the classic oscietra the so called GUBA, a hybrid between the russian and the siberian sturgeon)
Now, as if the confusion wouldnt be perfect by now, I would like to mention the vast habitat of the Siberian sturgeon. Some of their population goes into the Volga region and even into the Caspian Sea. According to a study it is a fact to state, that the Siberian sturgeon (A. baerii) even transmigrates into new regions where a genetic contamination occurs with the classic oscietra sturgeon, the Russian sturgeon, during their reproduction. It is already known that DNA analysis during caviar trading controls makes it virtually impossible today to differentiate between the two sturgeon species.
A recent comment I got from a Swiss authority (CITES) says that such trade names as ‘oscietra’ give an inaccurate view of the species and thus are not part of the necessary regulated information. What is important is the correct labeling, mentioning the latin name of the respective sturgeon species. Furthermore he adds to say, that to distinguish both species through DNA analisis is mostly very hard and in some cases even imposible.
So, on one hand we have a very classic and old expression – a commercial term – to categorize caviar and on the other hand we see new market behavior and the fact of genetic contamination and almost identical DNA codes.
Therefor I would like to raise the following question:
Is there really a basic legitimacy to differentiate the Russian from the Siberian Sturgeon on a commercial dimension?
Please feel free to comment.
Some links to follow-up:
- “Evidence of mitochondrial DNA clones of Siberian sturgeon, Acipenser baerii, within Russian sturgeon, Acipenser gueldenstaedtii, caught in the River Volga”:
- “Testing taxonomic boundaries and the limit of DNA barcoding in the Siberian sturgeon, Acipenser baerii”:
- The New York Times: “The Challenge of Knowing What’s Really in the Osetra Tin”