Caviar is a luxury food that can be priced as high as $12,000 per pound. You might think that a delicacy that people make this much of a fuss over has some specialized method to acquire. But that would be wrong. Turns out the process behind extracting caviar from a sturgeon isn’t elegant at all.

@foodwtf This is how #caviar is extracted from a #beluga fish 😲 🎥 @Foody Club #foodtiktok #be ♬ original sound – Foodwtf

How is caviar made?

First things first: Caviar can only come from sturgeon, and most frequently come from beluga, sterlet, kaluga, osestra, or American shite sturgeon. All caviar is technically roe, but not all roe is caviar.

In a video posted to TikTok, workers tasked with extracting sturgeon eggs reveal exactly how the process works: The fish is first rinsed before it is split open to reveal an entire cavity filled with greenish-brown roe. A sturgeon can carry up to 700,000 of these eggs. The workers lift the eggs out the fish, revealing the purple bowels inside. The eggs come out in log shape, sticking tightly together.

Once the eggs are removed, they’re piled into a dish and rinsed gently with water. Next, the worker massages them through the sifter in handfuls in order to separate the eggs from the egg sack. The eggs are rinsed again in even more water and then packed directly into tins.

One aspect of the process that isn’t shown in this video is that the eggs are salted – a crucial step that transforms the eggs from sturgeon roe to caviar.

What does caviar taste like?

tin of beluga caviar with blue top and knife in the background

Photo: BT Image/Shutterstock

Beluga caviar doesn’t taste too, well, fishy. In other words, it’s not pungent, stinky, or tangy. Caviar has a mild salty flavor that can be smooth, creamy, and buttery. The eggs are a deep black or dark green hue. Caviar should be served cold and you eat it by placing a little scoop on your hand or on a small plastic or mother-of-pearl spoon (metal or wood both can impart flavor). Each bite should be pushed up between the roof of your mouth and your tongue rather than chewed. Depending on where you’re eating it, caviar is often accompanied by a shot of vodka or a glass of Champagne.

Why is caviar so expensive?

The type of sturgeon that the caviar comes from generally sets the price. Types of sturgeon that can be farmed like osestra and white sturgeon are typically more affordable. The French brand Sturia sells 30-gram tins of caviar from sustainably farmed sturgeon starting at about $55. Then there’s beluga caviar, which can only be caught in the wild. Sturia and other online retailers like Petrossian sell tins of beluga caviar for between $250 and $300 for 30 grams.

Can you get caviar without killing the fish?

woman standing in front of beluga caviar bar with red awning in moscow

Photo: Julie Mayfeng/Shutterstock

Surprisingly, yes. It’s possible to stun a fish, create a small incision, extract the roe or the ovaries, and then stitch the fish back up, allowing it to continue producing eggs. However, in most cases the fish is killed before the extraction takes place, which makes it easier to extract as much roe as possible.