Faux Roe

[E]xtravagance and thrift, luxury and privation, wealth and poverty are equal. And you must not only stint the gratification of your immediate senses, as by stinting yourself of food, et cetera: you must also spare yourself all sharing of general interests, all sympathy, all trust, et cetera, if you want to be economical, if you do not want to be ruined by illusions. —Karl Marx

I recently had my Russian friend, M—, over to my apartment for a festive evening of champagne, caviar, and tangoing. She didn't know that I had secretly replaced her regular caviar with Kaviar, a new inexpensive ersatz caviar made from soy.

Kaviar is the invention of a pair of radical Russian scientists determined to wrest luxury from the pampered, overflowing mouths of the idle rich, and return it to the common people by whose sweat the rich have always profited. Such democratization, I figured, is what technology has been promising us all along. If everything went well, M— and I were to bear witness to the future.

In appearance, Kaviar is very similar to caviar: opalescent pearls huddling together in a compelling organic mass, glinting with myriad pinpoint highlights. It comes in two flavors: osetra and beluga. Osetra-flavor Kaviar is deep black, and lives in a light oily base; the beluga is gunmetal grey, with "eggs" bound together by a paler-grey paste. Kaviar doesn't have the luminous translucency of the real thing: the black is just black, without any of caviar's hints of silver, sea-green, and amber.

A mouthful of Kaviar gives quite a realistic overall sensation: a multitude of tiny cold spheres frolic on the palate, and gradually combine into a delicious gestalt. The flavor is excellently mild, if a little shallow, and not too salty—the caviar being simulated is of a high grade. Indeed, the highly realistic fishy taste seems too convincing to have not been extracted from some scrumptious sea life. On individual inspection, the "eggs" do not yield between the teeth in a sensual burst of flavor as real ones do, although this effect is halfway simulated by the resilient rubberiness of the soy protein. In a general way the texture is believable, but anyone whose heart is set on that moment when the membrane ruptures is going to have to shell out for the real thing.

(Of the two, osetra-flavor Kaviar is preferable to the other—milder and butterier, with less of an edge than beluga-flavor, which tends to have a slight chemical musk and a lingering acrid brininess.)

At last the blini were ready, and we tucked in. M—, who has been eating caviar ever since she could digest solid foods, was deceived only for a moment; then a suspicious look soured her face, and I told her the hard truth. She drained her glass of champagne, and I refilled it.

If Kaviar is trying to eliminate the disparity between rich and poor, the effort is noble but it has a ways to go. If you want to impress a date with it, there are many palates it would fool, but the risk is on your head. Considered as a snack, though, and setting aside what a false caviar may mean, it is quite delicious. http://www. royalcaviar.com

—Paul Adams