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Surviving the Arctic with Caviar

How indigenous tribes in the Arctic maintained health through caviar

We’ve all wondered on a cold winter morning, How could anyone possibly survive weather harsher than this? Imagine the frigid, dark, barren tundra of the Arctic Circle. Even with modern conveniences, few among us would be chomping at the bit to experience such extremes.

So with limited to no sources of light, heat, and fresh food, it begs the question: how did arctic indigenous tribes survive? You might be surprised by the answer – caviar.

Anthropological research has shown that caviar was an indispensable component of the diets of indigenous tribes of the arctic. During their long unforgiving winters, lacking in any and all fruits or vegetables, these tribes used cured fish roe as a multivitamin providing them with all of the vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids they needed to survive.

Life in the Arctic

The Greeks may have left behind more history books, but they weren’t the only ancient society to reap the benefits of caviar. Even in Greek culture, though, caviar was viewed as a delicacy and only the wealthiest families could afford it. In other parts of the world, caviar was not a luxury – it was a necessity.

For circumpolar indigenous tribes (that just means indigenous tribes inhabiting the area surrounding one of the Earth’s poles), caviar was a nutritional staple of the Every Man. Surviving in some of the planet’s least forgiving climates, countless native peoples of the polar northern hemisphere relied on whatever resources they had available to address their unique dietary needs.

Imagine for a moment surviving a primitive existence in the perilous arctic circle; the land of polar night – a several-months-long season of darkness where the sun never rises above the horizon. Without electricity, light, running water, grocery stores, or Postmates, what would you eat to stay alive? If you subsist on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, what do you conceive might be your available lunch options on a dark winter day in astonishingly sub-zero temperatures? Most animals have migrated or are in hibernation. The severe conditions cause all plant life to suffer a painfully short growing season, and they’ve since molted and lie dormant in anticipation of spring. The tundra is barren.

Many indigenous groups of the north turned to their local waters for the answer. Whether native to coastal territories or riparian, fish were (and still remain) an essential food source for most inhabitants of the arctic. Indigenous tribes of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, Siberia, and Russia alike harvested marine resources during the fishing season and implemented a variety of tactics, including fermentation and (obviously) freezing, to preserve their stores over the long winter.

Fish eggs: the inadvertent elixir of life

Okay, so native populations in some of the most unforgiving environments in the world were able to survive because they ate fish. What’s so incredible about this scenario? Beaten down by relentless cold, wind, darkness, and isolation, circumpolar indigenous peoples did not merely survive – they flourished.

Given their entirely unrecorded history after millennia of isolation from other parts of the world, some of the earliest written accounts of these inhabitants of the frozen north derive from Nordic, Russian, and European explorers. Initial narratives of these mysterious aboriginals speak of them as alluring, athletic, and healthy. How can a limited, carnivorous diet devoid of fruits, vegetables, and grains allow an entire group of human beings to maintain a healthful quality of life? Caviar. Coastal- and riparian-dwelling fishermen harvested a surplus of fish in the summer, drying, salting, and freezing whatever they could in preparation for the barren winter ahead – including caviar. Salted caviar is incredibly stable, and can be eaten with minimal preparation.

How caviar promotes immune health

Caviar is rich with high-quality protein, which makes up about 30% of its entire composition. Caviar protein is naturally composed of 21 different amino acids, including all 19 essential amino acids.

  • The amino acids in caviar support the production of antibodies, as well as interferon cells that inhibit the reproduction of virus cells. 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fat found in caviar that work with specialized immune cells to recognize, kill, and clear viral and bacterial pathogens from the body faster, while simultaneously decreasing inflammation. 
  • Vitamins A, D, E, and B6 are all abundantly present in caviar. These vitamins support respiratory and gastrointestinal function, decrease the risk of autoimmune disease, reduce inflammation, heal damaged tissue, and aid in the distribution of oxygen within the bloodstream.
  • Caviar is ripe with essential minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus, iodine, and selenium. These minerals are known to improve the body’s muscle and nerve function, energy production, protein synthesis, oxygenation, regulate the immune system, and regulate the hormones that rule our metab

For a detailed rundown of the top five reasons why caviar is an essential immune system booster, check out our blog post.

What we can learn from the Inuit

In the mid-1970s, an interesting nutritional theory began to emerge. Despite eating an exceptionally high-fat diet, researchers found that Inuits (an umbrella term referring to any or all of the eight indigenous ethnic groups in the Arctic) experience disproportionately low rates of heart disease. Dubbed ‘the Inuit Paradox,’ this phenomenon seems to contradict everything we understand about the effects of nutrition on cardiovascular health. How can it be possible that a diet based on copious amounts of saturated fats – like blubber from marine mammals and red meat from reindeer – and a complete lack of vitamins or antioxidants for months at a time allow any human being to maintain an effective immune system that keeps them from getting sick? More recent research has uncovered the source: the immune-boosting, antioxidant power of omega-3 fatty acids.

The indigenous Inuit people have a genetic adaptation that allows them to process harmful cholesterol and regulate insulin levels. This innate capability allows them to subsist on a diet made almost entirely of fish. Modern science recommends a diverse and well-balanced diet, so a ‘fish-only’ regimen won’t work for everyone. But thanks in part to the resourcefulness of aboriginal Arctic inhabitants, we are able to understand more about how a ‘fish-heavy’ diet can positively affect our health. Amazingly, caviar – one of the tiniest fruits to be harvested from a fish – contains all of the same nutrients as its full-grown counterpart. From a wealth of “good fats” – such as omega-3s – to a list of vitamins nearly longer than the alphabet, caviar is brimming with micro-elements that support our biological processes. 

From the comfort of our climate-controlled homes, it’s easy to feel awe at the fortitude of indigenous northern tribes. Yes, we are all gracious: we did not need to experience firsthand how fish and caviar can almost single handedly support the existence of a human being. But thanks to the grit of our ancestors from the Arctic, the gift of caviar and its health benefits is now available worldwide. Caviar is an indispensable component of the Inuit diet, allowing them to survive in the harshest climates on Planet Earth. Although we have a few modern luxuries that don’t require us to eat nothing but caviar to survive, there is not a person among us who could not benefit from the health benefits packed inside those tiny little morsels.

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