Exploring the Fascinating World of Fish Eggs: What Are They Called?


Have you ever enjoyed a delicious sushi roll bursting with tiny, vibrant orange spheres? Or perhaps you’ve come across a savory dish featuring a creamy spread dotted with little black pearls? These delightful ingredients are none other than fish eggs, a culinary treat enjoyed worldwide. But what exactly are they called?

While you might hear them referred to in various ways, there are two main terms used to describe these tiny powerhouses of flavor: roe and caviar. Let’s delve deeper and discover the fascinating world of fish egg terminology!

What Is Roe?

Eggs laid by almost all female marine organisms, ranging from sterlets to sea urchins, are called roe. In my family’s experience, we have discovered the fascinating diversity of roe and its culinary applications. For instance, we have explored the world of salmon roe, which refers to the eggs of salmon. To differentiate them from milt, or soft roe, which is derived from the seminal secretions of male fish, these female-produced eggs are often referred to as hard roe.

While roe is enjoyed in various regions worldwide, it holds a special place in Japanese cuisine, as my family has discovered. Japanese restaurants showcase the versatility of roe, featuring tobiko (flying fish roe), masago (capelin roe), and ikura (sometimes referred to as red caviar, as it serves as a substitute for salmon caviar) as appetizers or ingredients in sushi rolls. The vibrant and distinct flavors of these roe varieties add excitement and complexity to the culinary experience.

In our culinary explorations, my family has also come across creative ways of enhancing the flavors of roe. We have encountered cooks infusing roe with yuzu or wasabi, elevating the taste profiles and introducing unique combinations of flavors. These innovative approaches highlight the versatility of roe and demonstrate the artistry that can be employed in its preparation.

1. Ikura

Ikura is a specific type of fish roe obtained from salmon. Native to Japan, ikura has gained popularity globally for its vibrant orange color and rich, savory taste. It is often served as a topping for sushi, adding a burst of flavor and visual appeal.

2. Tobiko:

Tobiko is another type of roe commonly used in Japanese cuisine. Originating from flying fish, tobiko features small, crunchy eggs with a bright orange color. It is widely enjoyed as a sushi topping or incorporated into various seafood dishes, adding a delightful pop of flavor and texture.

3. Masago:

Masago refers to the roe of the capelin fish, a small fish found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans. With its small, glistening eggs and mild taste, masago is frequently used in sushi rolls, salads, and as a garnish, providing a pleasing visual contrast and subtle briny flavor.

Throughout the world, common varieties of roe include lumpfish, whitefish, cod, bristleback, mullet, paddlefish, bowfin, and bottarga. Similar to fully mature fish, roe can serve as a dietary supply of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.

What Is Caviar?

A particular kind of salted roe, or fish eggs, called caviar is only made from the Acipenseridae family, which includes wild sturgeons. To go even further, herring roe is not herring caviar; caviar exclusively refers to the eggs obtained from sturgeon fish species. Sturgeon roe is, therefore, sturgeon caviar.

Caviar is produced by numerous species of sturgeon fish. The Siberian sturgeon, white sturgeon, kaluga, ossetra (also spelled osetra), and beluga sturgeon can all develop into beluga caviar. Another popular variety of sturgeon roe is sevruga caviar. Sturgeon are unfortunately overfished, which is largely to blame for the high cost of caviar and the fact that they are now considered endangered.

Caviar is frequently served as a side dish to any cuisine that benefits from a salty and buttery flavor, such as blini (Russian pancakes). Caviar is sometimes served with Champagne and a dollop of crème fraîche, or sour cream, to emphasize its status as a delicacy.

Roe vs. Caviar: What’s the Difference?

Although there are many similarities between roe and caviar, there are also key differences. The following are the top three places where they diverge:

1. Extra ingredients: A quality caviar needs to be treated with Malossol, or minimal salt, to extend its shelf life and allow it to be properly marketed as caviar. On the other hand, there are numerous ways to season roe.

  1. Region: The Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions close to Iran and Russia are the primary sources of female sturgeon’s black caviar. Unlike other fish roe varieties, this one is more uncommon and comes from a variety of places across the globe.
  2. Sort of fish eggs: Not all roe is caviar, but all caviar is roe. While caviar is usually derived from sturgeon, roe can be any kind of fish or the eggs of shellfish. Because some North American caviar companies would readily label various types of fish roe as caviar, this can occasionally be confusing.


Feature Roe Caviar
Extra Ingredients Variously seasoned (salt, brine, oil, spices) Minimal salt (Malossol) for preservation
Region Worldwide (North America, Europe, Asia) Black & Caspian Seas (Iran, Russia)
Type of Fish Eggs Any fish (salmon, cod, whitefish, herring) or shellfish (lobster, shrimp, sea urchin) Sturgeon only (Beluga, Ossetra, Sevruga)
Processing Varies depending on type, can be salted, cured, smoked, or fresh Salt-cured with Malossol
Price Generally less expensive Very expensive due to rarity and processing
Flavor Varies depending on the type of fish, can be mild, salty, fishy, or briny Rich, buttery, nutty, with a delicate salty taste
Color Varies depending on the type of fish (orange, red, black, green) Black, grey, golden (depending on sturgeon species)
Texture Varies depending on the type of fish, can be soft, firm, or popping Delicate, with small, distinct eggs
Culinary Uses Appetizers, salads, sushi rolls, sauces, spreads Appetizers, canapés, luxury ingredient
Availability Widely available (fresh, frozen, canned) Limited availability due to overfishing and regulations
Nutrition Good source of protein, vitamins (B12), omega-3 fatty acids Similar to roe, but higher in fat content



The captivating world of fish eggs unveils a rich tapestry of flavors and textures. From the renowned caviar to the diverse array of roe varieties like ikura, tobiko, and masago, each type of fish egg offers a unique culinary experience. Appreciating the names and characteristics of fish eggs adds another layer of fascination to the intricate cycles of fish reproduction. So, whether you savor the luxurious caviar or explore the delicate flavors of roe in sushi, the diverse world of fish eggs invites you to embark on a gastronomic journey that celebrates the wonders of aquatic life.


Q: What’s the difference between roe and caviar?

A: Roe is a general term for any ripe, unfertilized fish eggs. Caviar, however, refers specifically to sturgeon roe, known for its luxurious status and delicate flavor.

Q: Are there other names for fish eggs?

A: Yes! Depending on the fish and region, you might encounter terms like tobiko (flying fish roe) or taramasalata (a Greek spread made with carp or cod roe).

Q: Are fish eggs healthy?

A: Absolutely! Fish eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with protein, healthy fats, and vitamins. They add a delightful flavor and texture to various dishes.

Q: Can I eat fish eggs raw?

A: Yes, some types of fish eggs, like those used in sushi (usually salmon roe), are traditionally eaten raw. However, it’s crucial to ensure the fish eggs are very fresh and come from a reputable source to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

Q: How do I cook fish eggs?

A: Cooking methods for fish eggs vary depending on the type and desired texture. Some methods include boiling, poaching, frying, or even baking them into dishes.

Q: What does fish roe taste like?

A: The flavor profile of fish roe can vary greatly depending on the species. Generally, roe has a briny, slightly salty taste with a unique texture that can range from popping to creamy.

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