"Nasser Meshkin Azarian took a careful nibble, letting the salty, grainy texture roll across his tongue. He smiled and washed it down with a sip of cool water.
“I give it an 82 or 83” out of 100, Azarian said. At the retail price of $80 an ounce in Iran, it was an expensive bite. But beluga caviar is for discerning palates. “
Iranian caviar has a fantastic reputation all around the world,” said Azarian, the chairman of Bahoo Caviar, a distributor in Tehran. “It is only going to grow.”
As Iran’s economy tries to rebound from years of harsh international sanctions, producers of black caviar — that salt-cured delicacy associated with the rich and famous, with a price tag to match — are also eyeing a comeback."
The 2015 nuclear agreement Iran signed with six world powers has slowly reopened foreign markets to Iranian products. One of those products is world-famous Iranian caviar, with native sturgeon being farm-raised instead of wild-caught in the country for the first time.
The mostly state-controlled Iranian caviar industry nearly collapsed during the 1990s and 2000s as the breakup of the Soviet Union triggered a torrent of unregulated fishing in one of the world’s main habitats for several sturgeon species. No species was targeted more than the beluga sturgeon, who's eggs are considered the rarest and most valuable of all the sturgeon.
In 2005, with data showing the sea’s sturgeon population had declined by 90%, the United States, then the world’s No. 1 buyer of beluga caviar, banned the import of beluga products from the Caspian Sea. A few years later, all U.S. trade with Iran ceased as unilateral and global sanctions were tightened to punish the Islamic Republic for failing to stop its illicit nuclear program.
Beluga still remains an endangered species with its meat and roe remaining illegal to import here in the USA. However, Iranian caviar farmers are optimistic that the new sustainable farming techniques and reemerging trade, thanks to the nuclear deal, will soon be changing that.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times