As I understand it, caviar is essentially fish eggs, which should be equally fine for vegetarians as birds' eggs. But I was raised (as a vegetarian) to avoid caviar, although chicken and duck eggs were fine.

What makes caviar "less vegetarian" than birds' eggs? Does the usual process of getting it involve killing the fish? Are the fish eggs fertilised, unlike most chicken eggs that people eat?


2 Answers 2


We wait for chickens and ducks to lay eggs before they are collected so they are still alive when their eggs are collected, and yes the eggs themselves are generally unfertilised so they can never become baby birds.

Birds may be kept in battery cages, and may be killed when they get too old to produce eggs in the same quantities as when they were young, so not all vegetarians do eat eggs. Many asian vegetarians would not consider the eating of eggs to be vegetarian at all.

Caviar however was traditionally obtained by killing the fish and extracting the eggs from its dead body and byproducts of slaughter have always been non-vegetarian.

These days caviar is often produced either by removing the ovaries of the fish together with the caviar through an incision or by cutting into the fish in caesarian section, removing the eggs and then stitching the fish up afterwards. Although these processes do leave the fish alive they can hardly be said to be unharmed.

Some caviar is however produced by massaging the fish, although that is still achieved by making an incision into it.

In the end you need to make your own decision as to whether you're comfortable with any of the processes involved in obtaining any kind of eggs.

  • 3
    Great answer! You have mentioned the treatment of chickens and ducks, perhaps a mention might be warranted on the practice of killing off male chickens (and unhealthy female chickens) shortly after birth? I see a figure of 7 billion killings per year world wide by the egg industry. Source here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chick_culling
    – user3977
    Aug 23, 2022 at 0:14

Caviar can be vegetarian.

In the traditional way of getting it, the fish is killed and gutted, the eggs are removed and saved, and the rest of the fish is processed for consumption. Some people consider this caviar vegetarian, but usually it is not classified as vegetarian, but pescatarian.

However, some farmers are finding ways to get the fish to expel its eggs, so the fish stays on the farm and makes more eggs, like a chicken. The California Caviar Company says this about the process in the USA:

CCC owns the U.S. master patent for the Köhler Process, allowing us to use first ever techniques for caviar extraction without harming the sturgeon, pioneered by Prof. Dr. Angela Köhler. We look forward to continuing our sustainable mission by producing the first-ever only living caviar (also known as “no-kill” caviar) to the United States in 2022. Once approved by the FDA, we will be able to massage the fish to extract the precious eggs and will continue to set the national standards for sustainable caviar.

Several methods have been used to expel eggs from live fish and others are being researched. No-kill caviar is still hard to find, but at least one company in the UK has it: Dariqus Caviar.

Caviar farmed from fish that live to give eggs again would be considered vegetarian.

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