Onuga ‘caviar’

Caviar. It’s expensive, it’s delicious, and we’re being encouraged to avoid it to save the Beluga sturgeon from extinction. Being an impoverished fan of the pressed salted stuff, my little heart leapt on reading that Waitrose were stocking Onuga, a ‘completely natural . . . caviar substitute’, which, according to their advertorial piece, has a ‘smoky. . . clean, fresh taste’. The man behind it, Patrick Limpus, is full of the ethical values contained in his little black pots, and says: ‘I love caviar, which is why I’m so proud to have come up with a worthy – and delicious – substitute.’

What follows is entirely my own fault. I used to work in magazine publishing, where one of my jobs was to edit adverts posing as real articles like this; I knew what the Waitrose magazine was doing, but I was still intrigued. I remained intrigued even when I looked at the tiny (and relatively expensive at £6) jar and read the words ‘reformed herring product’. It’ll be lovely little herring eggs, I posited. Dear little herring eggs that the nice man from the magazine has made salty and tasty for me. I love fish roe. I will walk miles for flying fish roe (tobiko) sushi (which is also a pretend fish roe product, not tasting of much on its own; the Japanese flavour and colour it until it’s something approaching manna), and I’d sell my soul for proper caviar. I knew I was going to be on my own at home all day on Sunday (Mr Weasel has to hand his thesis in on Wednesday, after several years of hard mathematical slogging, and is hiding in the lab polishing his diagrams), and decided I deserved a lunch of dear little herring eggs on blinis to cheer myself up in my solitude.

It started promisingly enough; the little black dots did look like fish roe, and on opening my precious jar I put one on the end of my finger, and licked. I pressed my tongue to the roof of my mouth, expecting the little egg to pop and release its delicious, oily juices . . . nothing. I chewed. Ah. That’s what they mean by ‘herring product’.

A little further reading revealed the true nature of my little jar of fishy punctuation marks. They’re reconstituted herring meat mixed with a seaweed product to make them gel into little balls, which are then salted and coloured with ‘vegetable carbon’. They taste like chewy taramasalata.

Onuga’s website makes it pretty clear that the emphasis in developing the product was on the mimicing the appearance rather than the flavour (or the incredibly important texture) of true caviar. ‘Onuga . . .’, they say, ‘. . . not only looks like the real thing but it tastes delicious too’. Delicious. Not ‘like caviar’. They claim it’s effortlessly superior in taste and texture to plain old lumpfish roe, which at least pops for you, rather than rolling round and round your mouth like pellets of fishy denture fixative.

The flavour is pleasant, but I feel I’d have been a bit better off with a tub of Waitrose’s very good premium taramasalata, or with a pack of smoked salmon. The texture is a disaster.

I’ve made twelve blinis. After piling all of them with creme fraiche, Onuga and chives, I eat three, and then I do something unheard of in this house – I throw the rest away.

12 Replies to “Onuga ‘caviar’”

  1. You’re not alone. I’ve bought into my own hype writing those damn advertorials too. You’d think we’d know better. Great picture. Now I’ve got a hankering for caviar. Sigh…

  2. I held off on trying Onuga, but weakened the other day in the face of a distinct lack of any alternatives on the shelves (even lumpfish roe). What a mistake.
    I found it nasty in texture, and insipidly lacking in flavour. What flavour there is is not unpleasant, but I’d rather just grill a herring.
    I am appalled by the prospect of the same people’s ‘Salmuga’ and ‘Troutuga’ as mentioned on their website.

  3. How does onuga compare with lumpfish roe? I quite like lumpfish roe. And it’s cheaper than onuga.

    I have never purchased onuga, since put off by the text ‘reformed herring product’. Your review suggests that I should not re-assess my position.

  4. Stick with the lumpfish. It tastes better, it’s cheaper and the texture is better (in that it pops rather than glueing itself blackly in crevices between your teeth).

  5. Thnaks for the reviews.
    I saw this in tesco, looked promising for an attempt at making my own Gunken Sushi.
    Having never tried caviar or any roe product, I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed by a poor fake.

  6. I understand you completely.
    I bought the same little jar of Onuga (£3.99) from Sainsbury's..being completely over the moon that I finally found this precious little jar of black jewels..
    Well, it turned out to be fake!

    p.s. wish me luck in searching a real popping black treasure:)

  7. My wife and I have bought this a few times now. We don't know what you are all fussing about. It tastes fine the texture is great and it's perfect with vodka and blinis.

  8. I saw it on the shelf in Sainsbury and wondered what it was, bought it. It was Christmas time,so I splashed out. I never experienced caviar, therefore I found it most delicious. I will treat myself to a jar from time to time, especially when I suffer from lack of appetite,this does go down very well indeed.

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