a gourmet review of caviars & fish roe


Capelin Caviar

Capelin Roe is a naturally orange colour, which is sometimes sold in dyed form, either red or black. Capelin (Mallotus villosus) is a small sea fish, growing to about 20cm long. They live in the cold northern arctic oceans between 50 and 70 degrees north.

In the winter months when spawning takes place, capelin congregate in vast shoals. This schooling habit allows fishermen to catch them in purse seine nets, just as it allows many of the large whale species to rely on them as a key seasonal food. In this spawning condition the fish are in their richest nutritional state. The males tend to die after spawning, in the manner of some salmon species, females however often survive to spawn again in future seasons.

Over a million tonnes of this pelagic species is harvested every year, providing a large quantity of roe. A large proportion of this comes from the Icelandic fishing fleet.

In Europe, Capelin roe is often prepared by steeping in brine, before packing in small glass jars - very similar to the way lumpfish roe are processed. Estimates suggest the European market is presently in the regions of about 100 tonnes per year.

The largest market for the small orange eggs is Japan. Japanese sushi cuisine rates capelin roe, normally sold under the term "Masago", highly and at present buy most of the world's production. Despite its established position within the sushi market, Capelin roe is a relative newcomer to the international fish roe market and it is expected to play an increased role as European cuisines adopt it.

For the Japanese market, the female roe bearing capelin must ideally be caught a few weeks prior to spawning. These fish tend to be frozen and exported to Japan whole where they are processed locally in their favoured style. Any unwanted elements of the fish are normally recycled into salmon food for the aquaculture industry.