Avruga Caviar

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

In my recent review of Coq d’Argent I mentioned Avruga Caviar. This topped off the timable that was part of Kat’s froggy entrée. I also referred to it as “damn good”, and it was! However, I should make the point that it does not seem to be actual roe… rather, some recombined smoked herring meat product.

When I wrote the Coq entry I assumed two facts: 1) That the caviar was herring roe, and 2) that “Avruga” was a generic term for herring roe caviar. The process whereby I unravelled these facts has been interesting, albeit a little bit of a waste of time.

Internet (Mis)Information

It all started with my Coq entry, I Googled “Avruga caviar” so I could link it from my review. I found two reasonable looking sources, one was on Wikipedia, a two sentence entry that said Avruga “is made from the roe of herring” (emphasis mine.) The second was on a site called iGreens.org.uk, which states that Avruga is “made from the roe of the common herring.” So I went ahead with this information.

Culinary Interest

The iGreens site said that Avruga was “Available from Waitrose, selected Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s.” Armed with this knowledge and an interest in getting better acquainted with Avruga I wandered up to Waitrose to get some bits and pieces for an evil cold platter for dinner. Alas, no Avruga! Instead I got a “herring caviar” named “Onuga®” in the hope that it’d be similar. We had a nice evil dinner of figs (argh! the “food miles!”), goats cheese, olives, and Onuga on spelt crackers. Washed down nicely with a 10yo tawny port. FYI: We do not normally eat this sort of food!

Before dinner I set about some Google sleuthing to see if “Onuga” was “Avruga” and find out more information about herring roe caviar.

Avruga® Revealed

In time I tracked down an official product page for Avruga to discover that the word Avruga requires a registered trademark symbol. Avruga® is the name of a product marketed by a Spanish company called Pescaviar. Along the way I also discovered that it is produced for Pescaviar by a company called Cataliment (no online info) and has Marine Stewardship Council “Chain of Custody” certification. This latter information comes from the news page of a website belonging to marine fishery consultants MacAlister Elliott and Partners.

So not only is it great “caviar”, it also takes the pressure off the poor old sturgeon and has impeccable environmental credentials. Eating this stuff should give hippies orgasms.

Spreading The Word

Armed with my new-found knowledge I trundled off to update the Wikipedia article. Aiming to clarify that “Avruga” was a product name and expand the snippet with the information about the producer and environmental certification.

This is the first time I’ve edited a Wikipedia article and doing so is an interesting insight on how the whole Wikipedia process can work. You just need enough enthusiasts who can’t get their priorities straight (I’ve really got other things I should be doing), Wikipedia has a whole Internet full time wasting nutjobs like myself.

After making some edits I discovered things like it being useful to review the “history” and to add update comments (I didn’t even see the form field for this when editing the entry.) Anyway, in the history I saw “Clarified the fact that it is not fish roe” followed by “Avruga caviar is made from herring meat not the roe? What utter garbage. I ate some avruga caviar tonight at a restaurant. It is ROE. Corrected article accordingly.”.

I was intrigued.

Reformed Herring

When someone makes such a pompous sounding “statement of fact” with no backup I get edgy. I’ve done it myself so many times and had it end in an embarrassing counter-proof almost as many times. The other thought is: why would someone bother to say it isn’t roe without some good reason? Since it is certainly seems to be roe.

The first thing I did was take a look at my jar of Onuga. The line “reformed herring product” was suspicious, if strangely worded. Reformed, like reform school? The ingredients revealed that the main contents were “water” and “smoked herring”, no mention of roe? I’m pretty certain that if it was roe it would say so!

But Onuga is not Avruga! On a closer look at the Avruga product page I noticed the phrase “Pescaviar has developped[sic], from wild herring, a unique product” and no mention of anything like “roe” or “eggs.” And re-reading the MacAlister Elliott page revealed the phrase “faux caviar.” I also did a Google image search to try and spot the ingredients list on the jar, in the fuzzy edge of one image I saw “smoked herring”.

I dug a little deeper and found the references to Pescaviar and Cataliment on the Marine Stewardship Council’s “PFA North Sea herring” certifications page. Both entries are for “smoked”. Adding this up with the information from the MacAlister Elliott site starts to make it sounds like much the same thing as the Onuga caviar.

I don’t claim any of these things as proof, but I’m certainly feeling convinced.

Who Cares?

I made another update to the Wikipedia article on Avruga caviar to include my new observations in as much of a “wikipedian” manner as I could. It’s hard work avoiding “weasel words.” Then again, the original article cited no sources as all, if I knew the markup for it I’d tag “has seen Avruga quickly gain popularity” with “citation required”. It seems feasible, but I’d like more information to back that up.

What does this mean for Avruga? I have to admit that the concept of caviar has a certain exclusive air to it and that the idea of “reformed” fish meat “caviar” feels like a cheapening of this. However, we need to be realistic about these things! Get off whatever try-hard, wannabe, foodie high-horse you’re on and just enjoy it. Call it tiny balls of firm fish jelly if you like.

The Onuga was good, firm little balls with a mild fishiness. Was it “good caviar?” It didn’t have the crispness and “burst” of real caviar, for sure, and Kat and I would go salmon caviar by preference without hesitation. I don’t think the Onuga was as good as the Avruga either. But without a side-by-side test it is hard to say, enjoyment of food is physiologically and psychologically complex. There are many influencers; in this case accompaniments, environment, and perceived value come to mind immediately. The Avruga would have also lacked “burst” I assume, so certainly requires revisiting without the trappings of a “high class” restaurant meal. Also, I only had maybe 5 or 6 little balls of Avruga and didn’t give them my full attention, since it was Kat’s entrée. It certainly wasn’t bad, we did come away from it thinking “damn good,” after all.

Gah! I’ve got to try and get my priorities straight! I thought train-spotting geeks were bad… here I am spending 3 hours worrying about faux caviar! I’d better put my jellified smoked herring balls back into the fridge and go to bed.