15 Jul /14


It is remarkable that the word caviar took so long to reach the language. After all the sturgeon had been declared a royal fish all the way back in 1324.

But it was only in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that the word caviar really comes into the English language. Hamlet talks to a group of actors and asks them to perform something for him out of a play which did not please the general public. Even at that early stage caviar was an acquired taste, which is not such a surprise if it was a royal privilege.

“I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted, or if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember, pleas’d not the million, ’twas caviare to the general.”

This was shortly after the word caviar appeared for the first time in English. It was used by Giles Fletcher, who went as English ambassador to Russia in 1588 and reported what he found when in Of the Russe Common Wealth which gives one of the earliest descriptions of Russia and Russians written in English. He writes about “Ickary” (ikra the Russia word for caviar) or “Cavery” which he writes is produced in great quantities on the Volga from the fish called beluga (the first time this word is used in English). In the same book, he also introduced the words boyar and Crimea Tartar into English.

At that time caviar was a luxury, as it is. But this was not always the case. In the USA, sturgeon used to be a very common fish in the rivers and caviar was served up in the bars to push liquor sales (a little like nuts today).  German immigrant Henry Schacht set up his own caviar business in Delaware in 1873 exporting it to Europe. There unscrupulous food merchants repackaged it as “Russian caviar” and sent it right back to the United States where it commanded a premium! Around about 1900 almost 90% of all caviar in the US was reimported.

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