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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Fish Roe: Not Just for the Czars
Nutrient-rich and delicious, it’s an excellent source of omega-3s 06/17/2020 By Temma Ehrenfeld

Oh caviar! Oh the Czars! An enduring symbol of lavishness, caviar remains widely seen as mostly as a luxury rather than a nutritious food.

But many cultures have long recognized fish roe as the ultimate superfood. And for a fraction of the price of caviar, you can enjoy the eggs of a variety of fish, from the bright orange pearls that hatch salmon, to the roe of lumpfish, capelin, trout, pike, cod and Alaska Pollock.

Fish roe is such an excellent source of all-important omega-3s, you might come to see it as a bargain.

What’s the big deal about caviar?

Any roe from a sturgeon can be called caviar, and there are some 27 species of sturgeon. According to the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society, nine are native to the United States.

In the 1800s, saloons put out free dishes of roe from American sturgeons as a salty snack like nuts to prompt thirst. On the other side of the world, Russian czars and aristocrats cherished the roe of the Beluga sturgeon, native to the Caspian Sea. After fleeing the Bolsheviks to Paris, they taught Europeans to prize Beluga caviar above all others (Wheeler, 2019). Its burgeoning popularity made the huge fish among the world’s most endangered species. Fifteen years ago, the United States banned imports of Beluga caviar.

The caviar sold in the United States today comes from farm-raised sturgeon of different species or hybrids. Osetra eggs and Sevruga eggs are top of the line after Beluga (Wheeler, 2019). Also for a hefty price, you can choose among hybrid or fusion varieties, from cross-bred sturgeons. Even on a farm, caviar is expensive to produce. It takes a decade or more to harvest roe from any one female, reports the founder of Calvisius Caviar, a top producer in Italy, and each fish is worth thousands of dollars (Thomsen, 2014).

The many kinds of fish roe.

Roe from other fish is a delicacy, too, and the good news is, prices aren’t nearly so stratospheric. You’ve seen bright red-orange salmon roe in sushi restaurants. Salmon roe is typically known by the Japanese term ikura. It’s a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, among the richest of all fish eggs (Rincón-Cervera MA et al., 2009). Yet the price can be as little as one-tenth that of sturgeon caviar.

The Greek staple, tarama, is a cured and often smoked carp or cod roe. Bottarga, a Sardinian delicacy made from tuna or mullet, is cured with salt and pressed and dried so it can be shaved onto dishes (Wheeler, 2019).

Why you should eat fish roe.

Our readers know the nutrient value of omega-3 fatty acids, so scarce in the U.S. diet. Fish roes are rich in two omega-3s important for humans, EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, and DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid. The exact amounts vary with the species, its environment and food habits.

Judged by EPA and DHA content, fish roe is a good value. The highest content of both omega-3s may be in roe from relatively inexpensive lumpfish, followed by Alaska pollack, capelin, salmon and cod. Salmon roe was 15.4 percent EPA and 22 percent DHA in a careful survey from a team in Milan (Vansconi, et al., 2020). The same survey found that salmon roe topped the list for protein at 29.6 percent and had a relatively high ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.

Again in the Milan study, salmon, trout, and pike roes recorded a lipid (fat) content greater than 12 percent, while all the other species had much less. That’s because salmon and trout are born in environments where they need their own fat and protein to survive, while other fish emerge into places with more food for the newly hatched larvae.

This of course is good fat, not bad, and perhaps especially good. Much of the fat content in roe comes in the form of a phospholipid, a molecule that interacts with cell membranes (Murota et al., 2017 and Kullenberg et al, 2012). If you think of a cell as a cluster of conversation at a big party, phospholipids may be like socially-skilled friends who make introductions. Fish roe has more phospholipids than fish oil and fish flesh, which has more than other sources of omega-3s. You may have read about meta-analyses (pooling studies) often involving omega-3s from seeds or other sources that shed doubt on the idea that taking an omega-3 supplement could help prevent heart disease. They may have been demonstrating that it’s the increased bio-availability of the phospholipids in fish products that truly lower heart disease risk (Lordan et al., 2017).

However, scientists do debate this bio-availability issue. In the meantime, eating some fish roe is a good way to make sure you get any advantages that emerge.

Although there isn’t much human research specifically analyzing the impact of eating roe, science backs DHA/EPA phospholipids generally, showing benefits for lipid and glucose metabolism, and possible fighting power against tumors (Zhang, et al, 2019).

In short, far from a mere show of excess wealth, fish roe has been revered by traditional cultures for years as a potent source of vital nutrients. For example, Andean tribes went to great lengths to carry dried roe from the sea to their high-altitude home, to make sure pregnant women got an ample supply (Forestal et al., 2019).

So make salmon roe or other roes a part of your life. Roe can be a regular for Sunday brunch with cream cheese on bagels. For an impressive lunch, make your own Russian blinis, or upgrade egg salad with tarragon and salmon roe. Put out tarama at parties with celery sticks. You don’t have to tell your guests that fish eggs are good for them. Let them feel as decadent as a czar.

Sources:

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Forristal, L. J., Christel, & Cristina. (2019, October 3). The Roe to Health. Retrieved from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/food-features/the-roe-to-health/

Lee KE, Nho YH, Yun SK, Park SM, Kang S, Yeo H. Caviar Extract and Its Constituent DHA Inhibits UVB-Irradiated Skin Aging by Inducing Adiponectin Production. International journal of molecular sciences. Published May 11, 2020.

Long A. Why You Should Put Caviar On Your Face. ELLE. https://www.elle.com/beauty/a39289/caviar-beauty-products/. Published October 11, 2017. Accessed June 9, 2020.

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Rincón-Cervera MA, Suárez-Medina MD, Guil-Guerrero JL. Fatty acid composition of selected roes from some marine species. European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 111 (9): 920-925, 2009.

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Thomsen S. I Ate Caviar Off My Hand Because The Italian Who's The World's Biggest Supplier Says That's The Best Way To Do It. Business Insider Australia. https://www.businessinsider.com.au/i-ate-caviar-off-my-hand-because-the-italian-whos-the-worlds-biggest-supplier-says-thats-the-best-way-to-do-it-2014. Published March 20, 2014.

Wheeler J. Caviar vs Roe: Some Fish Eggs Are Fancier Than Others. Chowhound. https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/220019/what-is-the-difference-between-caviar-and-roe/. Published December 28, 2019.

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What is Beluga Caviar? GourmetFoodStore.com. https://www.gourmetfoodstore.com/what-is-beluga-caviar-15951. Accessed June 9, 2020.

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