AJ Lim of T’lur Caviar on Bringing to Life the World’s First Ever Tropical Caviar

The Founder and Managing Director of T’lur Caviar shares how the prized delicacy could cultivate a new appreciation for homegrown produce.
T'lur Caviar

AJ Lim, the Founder and Managing Director of T’lur Caviar Malaysia.

If there is one food that is synonymous with luxury, it’s caviar.

The ancient Persians were the first to recognise the delicacy for its medicinal qualities, but it was the Russian Tsars who elevated the ingredient into a status symbol, a culinary indulgence symbolising wealth, power, and opulence.

And yet Tanjung Malim seems like an unlikely base to produce an ingredient that evokes such notions of grandeur. But that’s exactly where T’lur Caviar, Malaysia’s first-ever sturgeon caviar farm is located.

About 40 to 50 kilograms of caviar are harvested at the 3.3-acre farm on a monthly basis, making it the first-ever tropically cultivated caviar in the world.

Out of the 27 species of sturgeon, a couple of varieties are cultivated here: the Amur, the Siberia, and a hybrid species, which is a crossbreed between the Kaluga and the Amur sturgeon.

Something in the water

The taste of caviar varies from species to species along with other factors such as the age of the fish and the quality of the product, but its taste is usually described as briny, buttery, nutty, and even earthy.

But how does T’lur Caviar’s equatorial sturgeon’s roe compare with their cold-climate counterparts?

“We did a blind taste comparison, and surprisingly, our caviar has a small citrus note,” says AJ Lim, the Founder and Managing Director of T’lur Caviar.

“I can’t explain why, but we do suspect it’s because of the high mineral water source.”

He may be on to something. Perak, the northern state where the farm is based, is known for its tin mines and is a place known to produce ingredients rich in minerals, such as their sought-after pomelo and bean sprouts.

Besides its unique flavour profile, there’s another added advantage to homegrown caviar, and that’s the freshness compared to imported versions, which usually take one to two months after harvesting to finally reach the shelves. 

T'lur Caviar

T’lur Caviar does everything on the spot at the farm, from extraction to preparation, providing a more sustainable solution. 

“The only preservatives are salt, and even then, the salt content is way less than in those normal packaged versions,” says Lim. “Usually you’re talking about six percent of salt; ours is about 3.2 percent.”

It’s a long and tedious wait for the sturgeons to start bearing eggs, with a duration of up to 12–13 years for Amur sturgeons in captivity, but the tropical climate also brings an unexpected advantage.

“One good thing about the weather here is that the fish don’t hibernate,” Lim explains.

“The fish stops growing in the winter season, prolonging the process. Here, we’re able to cut down almost 25 percent of the period it takes to harvest the eggs.”

Striking black gold

As part of Lim’s family business, the sturgeon farm in Tanjung Malim has existed since 2008, providing sturgeon fish meat to markets and restaurants.

It was only nine years later that they first looked into the possibility of harvesting the prized roe when Lim officially joined in 2017 in a managerial position and until recently, had fully acquired the family business. 

T'lur Caviar

“We sent the fish to the restaurants, and their feedback to us was, ‘How come there is this black coloured stuff in the fish?'”, says Lim.

Thinking there must be a proper way the roe could be harvested without the quality being impaired, Lim called in the help of a caviar expert from Germany to show them how the process could be sustainably done. 

“It took us about six to seven months to really understand how caviar is produced—from the storage period to what could happen in terms of spoilage such as bacterial or yeast contamination—all these kinds of things that you can’t see through the naked eye,” says Lim.

But another big challenge was getting people to believe they could sustain the life of sturgeon fish in the tropical climate, let alone fish them for caviar.

“I would say there was plenty of disbelief,” says Lim with a laugh.

“I even had some people ask me if I was sure if these fishes were sturgeons.”

A star ingredient

It was at this point that Lim was first introduced to Masashi Horiuchi, the Japanese chef at the helm of the highly successful contemporary French restaurant Entier and Potager, who would become T’lur Caviar’s first-ever fan.

T'lur Caviar

AJ Lim with Chef Masashi Horiuchi.

Entier became the first fine dining restaurant to highlight the locally harvested caviar, and it was from there that the news began to spread within the local chef community, at a time when a local ingredients movement was pushing establishments to highlight Malaysian produce.

At Potager, where we meet Lim today, T’lur Caviar is used in Chef Horiuchi’s menu, where it’s offered as more than just a garnish, but rather, as one of the star ingredients.

T'lur Caviar

Potager’s amuse bouche of green pea and locally sourced T’lur Caviar.

Roe with it

In some ways, T’lur Caviar is growing in popularity among the fine dining scene in the country, but Lim thinks there’s still more work to be done when it comes to raising awareness.

“Caviar is not a well-known ingredient in Malaysia. We’re talking about the days when people didn’t know much about salmon until recently, when more Japanese cuisine started coming into the market, and now salmon sashimi is a norm,” says Lim.

“I believe it’s the same with caviar; we just need more time.”

When it comes to plans to export to neighbouring Singapore, Lim aims to take things slow, stating his main priority right now is finding ways to increase productivity in his team of 15 employees to meet demands.

“There is still a lot of growth potential in the Malaysian market with all these restaurants supporting us with this local produce initiative. Maybe when we are able to produce on a bigger scale, that’s when we’ll start thinking about the Singapore market.”

With 2024 being the Year of the Dragon, it might just provide the perfect marketing opportunity for the business.

“In Mandarin, sturgeon fish xun long yu is indirectly translated as ‘searching for dragon fish,” he grins.

“So, we are looking forward to introducing sturgeon into the market.”


Shot on location at Potager KL. 

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