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Sat 1 Apr 2006 04:00 AM

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Caviar ban leads to seaweed replica

Cavi-art, a substitute for caviar, has been introduced, but can it really replace the real thing?

Responding to the temporary trading ban in caviar, Danish-based Jens Moller Products has introduced Cavi-Art, a caviar substitute made of seaweed. The ban, imposed upon Caspian Sea producers, was placed after illegal trading in caviar resulted in the decline of sturgeon stocks.

The creation of Cavi-Art — which is growing in popularity in Europe — is said to be beneficial for people on low cholesterol diets, vegetarians and consumers concerned about depleting sturgeon stocks. But chefs in the Middle East say a stand-in beluga will not be found in their kitchens for the moment.

“There have been some attempts with artificial caviar in the past, for example soya based products, but the results show that these artificial products cannot fully replace caviar. There will still be caviar on the market, from Iran through licensed traders, but of course, prices will rise and we have to see how we can use and sell it,” said Ernst Frank, director of kitchen operations, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi.

The Secretariat of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora) did not approve caviar export quotas earlier this year, as countries providing the delicacy failed to provide the scientific basis to assess the sustainability of their sturgeon stocks.

However, Jens Moller, who was experimenting with his children how seaweed could be used to capture enzymes, discovered that small beads inside the seaweed could act as a replacement to caviar.

Promoting the product as an alternative for people who think normal caviar tastes too fishy and oily, it comes in two varieties; black seaweed lumpfish and pink seaweed salmon roe.

“We could consider the caviar substitute as a kind of decoration, but not as a real replacement of the caviar itself,” commented Frank Heinen, director of food and beverage, Four Seasons Hotel Cairo.

It is estimated that the caviar trade is worth US $100 million annually, with European authorities seizing 12,000kgs of illegal caviar last year alone.

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