The origin of caviar

Cossacks, Turks, Persians…This delicacy has been attributed different origins and qualities over the Ages. The Cossacks, the first people to consume it, believed that it enhanced physical strength, and in Ancient Rome it was attributed curative properties.

Even though its consumption has been documented since the reign of Catherine the Great, at the end of the 18th Century, it wasn’t until 1917 when it extended throughout Europe during the Russian revolution.. Aristocrats fleeing from their country arrived in Paris and Montecarlo and served sturgeon roe at dinners and parties celebrated by high society.

This is when caviar started to become a luxury product.

The animal kingdom 1854 Smithsonian Libraries
The animal kingdom 1854 Smithsonian Libraries

A sturgeon native of the Guadalquivir river

In the 1930’s, the Russian specialist Theodor Classen arrived in Coria del Río to carry out a mission for the Ybarra family: to produce a caviar of similar quality to that of his country of origin, a luxury product which was beginning to gain popularity in the large French restaurants. Classen’s technique was based on fishing the Acipenser naccarii, u one of the most appreciated Sturgeon varieties found in the Guadalquivir river.

Years later, the Domezain family followed on from Classen and started to breed sturgeon in captivity. This re-introduction of the species to Riofrío, very close to the waters of the Guadalquivir where they had lived in the wild, provoked great scientific interest.

It was in the 1990’s when the great opportunity arose. An international decree began to consider sturgeon a species in danger of extinction and therefore banned it from being fished.

Caviar producers could no longer capture enormous specimens from the Caspian sea, the moment had come to look for fish farms with the optimal conditions to breed these fish from which to elaborate the most expensive gourmetproduct in the world Therefore, today all the caviar consumed comes from non-wild animals.

Old photograph of the Caviar de Riofrio facilities.
Old photograph of the Caviar de Riofrio facilities.

Caviar takes many years to produce. Only female sturgeon produce it, and it is necessary to wait nine years to be able to separate the animals by sex, and another few years for them to produce their eggs. In short, caviar is not a business for the impatient.

So, when the CITES decree entered into force, very few fish farms already had female sturgeon ready to produce caviar. Thanks to the visionary Domezain family, Riofrío was one of them. It was also the first to obtain organic certification.

Therefore, caviar does not only come from Russia and Iran, as is popular belief, but also from Spain which produces one of the best caviars in the world. Most of the fraudulent product comes mainly from China, it passes itself off as Russian or Iranian caviar when in fact it is caviar of low quality.

Riofrío 1963. Photograph of 1963. Converting the hydroelectric canals of San José into the primitive fish farm.