These days, most of the caviar on the world market is supplied by fish raised on aquafarms due to the diminishing wild populations of most caviar-producing species, which are unable to meet the high level of demand. Environmental damage to the fishes' habitat has made the position of these wild populations even more precarious, the damming and pollution of waterways making it difficult for the fish to spawn and thrive. Aquafarms are a far less damaging alternative, equipped to furnish the same high quality of caviar that connoisseurs demand without further harm to already vulnerable species.
However, some species of fish still thrive in the wild and yield caviar. One such species is the Bowfin (Amia calva). Bowfin caviar is a domestically sourced American black caviar; though not harvested from the famed sturgeon family, the source of the world's most expensive roe, the caviar produced by this bony fish native to the southern United States is nonetheless comparable. The grains of Bowfin roe are quite small, as is the fish itself, and vary in color from brownish to jet black.
The American Bowfin caviaris famous and highly regarded by connoisseurs for its intense flavor, with its mild tang and hints of spice. Bowfin roe is a traditional part of the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana, where it features under the better known name of Choupique caviar. In appearance, Bowfin caviar closely resembles sturgeon caviar, and its lower price makes it a sound, affordable substitute, suitable not just for including in salads and pastas or garnishing hot and cold dishes, but also for canapes and blini at large cocktail parties. A comparison of the Bowfin caviar price with the more expensive options demonstrates how affordable this caviar is.
The greater part of Bowfin black caviar is harvested from wild-caught fish, guaranteeing its fantastic taste; in response to the recent ban on the import of Caspian caviar, however, the focus on farmed Bowfin has increased to protect the wild population against the increased demand.
About the Bowfin
Bowfin is commonly known by a variety of names, including "Choupique," as noted above, and "Mudfish," "Mud pike," "Dogfish," "Griddle," "Grinnel," or "Cypress trout." Like the sturgeons, it is a primitive species of fish, which has changed hardly at all over the last several million years. It lives in the still waters of lakes and rivers in the eastern United States, from the swamps of Louisiana to the Great Lakes. This fish is quite small, measuring 50-70 cm long and weighing about 6 kg. It has an elongated cylinder-shaped body with a prominent dorsal fin, to which it owes its name.
As it is a primitive fish, it displays many of the features of its prehistoric ancestors, such as a roundish caudal fin, a bony gular plate, and a highly vascularized gas bladder lung. One interesting point about this species is that it can breathe both through its gills and through the vascularized gas bladder, which takes in air from above the water's surface through the tunnel-like nostrils in the head. There is evidence that Bowfins can survive and even stay active after several days on dry land.
With its long, sharp teeth, the Bowfin is an unmistakable predator, one that prefers to ambush its prey. Adults feed on smaller fish and crustaceans while young Bowfins feed mostly on small crustaceans. Bowfins have a voracious appetite and can move very quickly in the water. The fish's dorsal fin makes its passage silent as it stalks its prey. Once it springs, its attack lasts less than a tenth of a second.