Caviar is, no doubt, an expensive luxury. I’ve only had the ultra-fancy stuff a few times, and only in small tastes at that. But now the UK’s INews reports that the world’s first lab-grown caviar is in the works, and we might see it on our plates in just a few years.
Exmoor Caviar in Devon, England, produces sustainable sturgeon caviar, and has been working on a lab-grown version with leading scientists from UK universities. Kenneth Benning, the chief executive of Exmoor Caviar, said, “We’re using biotech to grow cells using proteins and lipids derived from the fish. We’re now at the point where we have a cell bank, a bit like a resource of frozen eggs. If and when we need to, we can take a portion out and grow them in a bioreactor.” You know this is serious when they’re whipping out the bioreactor.
Exmoor operates as a farm and utilizes the fish in its entirety, including the meat. But Benning says that other fisheries, despite also being considered humane, aren’t so humane in practice.
“Ovulated caviar is branded as better because fish aren’t killed,” he said. “We farm fish to be used for eggs, but also meat and other products. That’s how we do it–we operate as a farm. But the method of ovulated caviar I think is disgusting–fish are injected with hormones so that they release eggs which are then pushed out while the fish is held down. These are big, prehistoric fish, gentle giants, and I don’t think there’s a moral reason for doing it this way. It must cause a lot of pain and stress before fish are re-released.”
There are already plant-based caviar options on the market, but Exmoor’s product will be as close to the animal-based original as it gets, sans sturgeon. Once the eggs are produced from the bioreactor, they’ll be cleaned and salted, just like the real thing, and left to ferment in tins for three to six months.
“It should taste the same as caviar. It is caviar. It’s just not been extracted from a fish. I want that feeling of celebration and indulgence, that special thing to carry on,” Benning said. So who knows, we might be seeing blini topped with sturgeon caviar in the upcoming years, with no sturgeon involved. The future is coming, everyone.