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I recently listened to this podcast from the OU Kashrut Division on the kashrut of Bowfin eggs in particular and of fish eggs in general, and I learned something interesting about the kashrut of fish eggs:

Eggs from a kosher fish are not considered kosher if they are black-colored, perhaps even if they are dyed black.

The reason for this, if I understand correctly, is that it was determined by Talmudic or post-Talmudic authorities that all red fish eggs come from kosher fish, so if we only allow red fish eggs, we can prevent anyone from eating eggs that they think come from a kosher fish, but don't.

I'm wondering why we employ such a restrictive heuristic, entirely excluding the eggs of various kosher fish species just because the eggs aren't obviously kosher by visual inspection, instead of allowing some other reliable demonstration (e.g. the testimony of a God-fearing Jew) of their provenance. Why don't we treat fish eggs similarly to how we treat:

  • Fish fillets, whose fish of origin is difficult to determine once they've been butchered, so we just make sure to buy them from a kosher fish butcher?

  • Kosher beef, which is physically indistinguishable from non-kosher beef (before the former is salted, or if the latter happens to have been salted for some reason), so we require that it came from a reputable slaughterer and that it was guarded along the way?

  • Milk, whose animal of origin can (in theory) be difficult to determine, so we require that its provenance is verified all the way from the source, either by Jewish supervision or, at least according to many, certain governments' supervision?

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How would you know which fish the eggs are originally from? It's not like they have a label on them... –  yydl Nov 11 '11 at 19:41
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@yydl, just like you know where your fish fillet, beef, or milk came from. –  Isaac Moses Nov 11 '11 at 20:24
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2 Answers

This site quotes the following in the name of Beis Yosef:

In order to determine that one did not make a mistake among the variations of black eggs, they prohibited consumption of all black fish eggs.

Apparently because fish eggs are not a staple like milk or meat, it is easier to impose safeguards of this kind on them.

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Who said we don't treat fish eggs the same way?

You can certainly buy OU-certified black caviar (from whitefish, for instance, see: http://www.amazon.com/Kosher-Black-Whitefish-Caviar-Orthodox/dp/B000LR0MHI) So it follows the same rules as all of the items you mentioned -- as long as it was supervised when it was extracted to make sure it came from a kosher fish.

Now, the rule according to the Beis Yosef is that red eggs are kosher, even without any supervision, and black eggs are not. And you might read the Beis Yosef to imply that even with supervision, black eggs are not.

On the other hand, see the Aruch HaShulchan YD 83:50 who says that the Beis Yosef's rule about trusting red eggs without supervision is completely unfounded and that we require supervision for all fish eggs.

The OU follows the lenient view of the Beis Yosef for red eggs (and thus if the caviar are red, no hashgacha is required -- they are ipso facto kosher) but provides supervision for black eggs, thus following the approach of the Aruch HaShulchan.

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I need to re-listen to the podcast in light of this information. Why wouldn't the OU provide certification for Bowfin eggs, then? Is it possible that the black whitefish caviar is actually red eggs that are somehow treated to look black? –  Isaac Moses Nov 11 '11 at 20:26
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No, red caviar come from carotenoid fish (which is why red fish flesh is also automatically kosher, even if you don't see the scales -- e.g you can buy regular skinless salmon fillets at a non-kosher grocery store, because the red flesh is a siman muvhak). Whitefish have white flesh (and are not carotenoid) and thus their eggs are not red, but in fact black. –  Curiouser Nov 11 '11 at 20:31
    
Whitefish roe is naturally of a golden color, not black. –  Yishai Jan 21 at 16:27
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