Lobster and caviar: why weren't they originally luxury foods?

Caviar and lobster are luxury foods. Their prices are very high, from €40 per kg for lobster to €12,000 per kg for rare caviars. They are often served at major parties and events, particularly New Year’s Eve. We enjoy the caviar as a starter, on a sofa, and the lobster rather as a main course. Accompanied by champagne and discussions between friends and family, these dishes constitute our most beautiful holiday meals.

Tasting caviar or lobster means treating yourself to their unique flavor. In the mouth, the iodized aromas of caviar can vary from fruity to buttery. As for lobster, its flesh is tender, fine and slightly sweet.

How can we explain this significant increase in the value of these products on the market, when until the Middle Ages, they were served to the poor, or even given to pigs?

Caviar, reserved… for pigs

You read correctly, the pigs were fed caviar. Until the Middle Ages, sturgeon eggs were crushed before being thrown to pigs. It was not until the 18th century that the Russian tsars tasted it around a banquet, and fell under its spell. A fashion began to the point that caviar even appeared on Russian coins. This enthusiasm leads to overexploitation of caviar, to the point that the sturgeon becomes an endangered species. Its rarity will have made its price inaccessible, and made caviar an exceptional dish.

Lobster, the “cockroach of the sea”

Until the 18th century, the lobster, nicknamed “sea cockroach”, was perceived as the “garbage fish”. The one who eats all the waste from the ocean, definitely not to touch and even less to taste. It was almost free in the United States and New England and could even be used as fertilizer. The only people who were served lobster as a form of humiliation were the prisoners. It was bought for a pittance and cooked already dead, unlike today, where lobsters are cooked alive. An essential precautionary measure to avoid catching the bacteria that emerge from a lifeless lobster.

The overabundance of lobster in the Atlantic Ocean has certainly earned it the greatest indifference, but also its greatest success. For good reason, in the 19th century, an American canned food company, Burnham & Morrill Company, became interested in this potential. She decides to exploit the glut of lobster and can it. Despite exports of this product, few are interested in lobster. However, other factories began to industrialize it. These companies will have had their eye, since, around 1850, lobster finally appeared on restaurant menus.

It was not until the arrival of the railroad in the United States that lobster became a luxury delicacy. Its price being still low, it was easily served to passengers on trains connecting the West Coast to the East Coast. Travelers immediately adopted the tenderness of lobster, restoring the image of this crustacean, now very famous.

Just like caviar, there followed overfishing of lobster which made it rare and increased the price.

From now on, you know everything and will be able to shine around the Christmas table!

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