You often spot them included on the menu at your favorite restaurants and spot them in jars on the shelves at your local grocery store. But what are these little green things known as capers? Where do they come from? And most importantly, what do they taste like and how do you cook with them?
Capers are the small, pickled buds from the Capparis shrub which is native to the Mediterranean. These flower buds are picked by hand from the Capparis shrub and are then dried in the sun. Once the capers have become dried out they are then pickled in brine, wine, vinegar, or salt. This stage is known as curing, and it works to bring out the unique lemon taste of the capers.
This tasty culinary treat is roughly the size of corn kernels, and is popular with fish dishes or used to create tartar sauce. You will find that a lot of Italian and Greek cuisine features capers as an ingredient. Capers are a favorite garnish or seasoning in these dishes, and can really give your food the lemony kick it needs to lift the flavor.
What do Capers Taste Like?
Don’t let their small size fool you. Capers may be small, but these pickled flower buds pack a flavorful punch. They have a unique lemon flavor which is often compared to olives, and they have a signature tang that blends well with a variety of dishes. This intense flavor comes from their mustard oil, which becomes released thanks to the glucocapparin molecules.
You will notice that capers can add a tangy, salty addition to your dishes. This is of course because of how they are packed, often in brine or salt.
Different Types of Capers
There are many types of capers to choose from, and this mostly comes down to the maturity of the flower bud before it is picked.
They are usually sold in these different sizes, and the flavor can vary depending on the size of the capers that you pick. Capers can range from the size of a small olive at their largest down to the size of a little, baby pea at their smallest.
Smaller capers such as the nonpareils tend to be one of the most popular because of their delicate flavor and texture. These are often pricey because of their popularity. The larger the capers, the more acidic they are. This often means that large capers such as grusas need to be used sparingly, otherwise, they will overwhelm your dish.
The name of the caper variety will differ depending on their size.
- Nonpareils – usually 7mm in diameter, idealized because of its more palatable flavor and delicate texture
- Surfines – anywhere between 7mm and 8mm in diameter
- Capucines – anywhere between 8mm and 9mm in diameter
- Capotes – typically between 9mm and 11mm in diameter
- Fines – usually around 11mm to 13mm in diameter
- Grusas – anything over 14mm in diameter, typically more acidic than other smaller capers
The best capers for your needs will depend on the dish that you are trying to make. The delicate flavor of the nonpareils makes this a lot more versatile than the larger varieties such as capotes, fines, and grusas. Surfines is another popular choice, and is widely available However, if you’re looking for a punchy, acidic flavor to give your dish that extra kick, these larger capers will be ideal.
Capers vs Caperberries: What’s the Difference?
Even though they come from the same plant, you shouldn’t confuse capers for their cousin the caper berry.
Caperberries are the fruit of the plant and are what happens when unpicked capers are allowed to flower. These flower buds produce beautiful pink and white flowers which will then produce the tasty caper berry if left on the plant.
These berries are much larger than their unripened counterparts and are roughly the size of an olive. These fruits have small seeds inside that appear very similar to those of kiwi seeds.
Both capers and caper berries are edible and tend to be pickled before they are consumed. Caperberries lend themselves well to use as a garnish in cocktails. Why not try caper berries as a garnish for your bloody mary or martini?
Cooking With Capers
Capers are a wonderfully versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. They tend to be very popular in Mediterranean dishes such as Italian and Greek food. Capers can be used as a diced ingredient in dishes or as a garnish. There is often very little preparation needed to use capers in a dish, so they tend to be added towards the end of the cooking process.
They also have a very strong flavor despite their small size, so you should use these sparingly in your cooking. This will also depend on the variety of capers that you opt for, of course, with the larger capers being more acidic in flavor.
This pickled ingredient is very popular in seafood dishes because its lemony flavor pairs well with fish. You will find capers used with salmon, tuna, lox, scallops, and many other fish dishes. It is also the main ingredient in fresh tartar sauce, which is also used with classic fish recipes. They also work well as a topping on pizza.
Not a fan of fish? Then try pairing your capers with chicken, lamb, or pork.
Using capers in sauces can help to give your dish the salty kick it needs. You can add these straight out of the jar into your favorite dishes, or you can even fry them for a few minutes beforehand to give them a little extra crunch. Lemon is another flavor that pairs well with capers, as well as nuts and cheese.
You may find that you need to rinse your capers off before you use them in your cooking. This is because if the capers have been packed with salt, they can be intensely salty. Giving your capers a light rinse under water can help to remove some of this salt, and reduce the intensity of the saltiness you add to your dish.
If you opt for capers that have been stored in brine, you can also use this brine in your dishes. Why not use it as a substitute for olive juice in a dirty martini? Or you can also add the caper brine to mayonnaise to create a dressing for your favorite dishes.
How to Store Capers
The best way to store your capers will depend on how they have been packaged. Unopened jars of capers stored in brine can be stored in a cool, dark place in your pantry. Capers stored in salt can also be stored in your pantry at room temperature for up to 6 months in total. Your capers will need to be stored in an airtight container to ensure that they can stay fresh and ready to use.
Open jars of capers will need to be stored in your refrigerator. You will need to ensure that the jar is airtight, and this can then be stored in your refrigerator for up to 9 months. If you notice your capers start to produce an unpleasant odor and the jar shows a darker coloration, then it will be time to discard them.
Ensure that the capers are sufficiently covered in the brine to keep them fresher.
Where to Buy Capers
Capers are widely available throughout the year. You should be able to find the more common jarred brined capers at your local grocery store. These will typically be stored alongside other pickled goods, or with olives and similar delicacies.
It will be worth noting that the smaller, tastier nonpareils will be much more expensive than the larger caper varieties. This is because they have a delicate flavor and texture, so are the more desired variety of capers.
Sometimes despite your best efforts, you might not be able to find capers in your local grocery store. Or perhaps you had a particular variety in mind and weren’t able to get hold of them. Maybe you’re not a big fan of capers and need a tasty alternative that will still give you the similar flavor that you’re after in your dish.
Here are a few substitutes that you can use in place of capers.
Chopped Green Olives
This is arguably one of the easiest substitutions you can make for capers. Chopped green olives will help you to get that same briny flavor that you’re after. This is an alternative that is also widely available.
Green olives have a milder flavor and are much larger than capers, so it will be worth chopping these up if you need to substitute them for capers.
Pickled Artichoke Hearts
These make another fantastic substitute for capers. You’ll get a similar flavor profile and texture with pickled artichoke hearts.
This substitution has a similar flavor profile and can match the briny taste of capers.
A herby alternative to capers is thyme. This pungent herb can match the potency in flavor, however, the texture won’t be an exact match.
Pickled Nasturtium Seeds
While these may be a little trickier to find in your local grocery store, they will also give you a similar flavor profile to capers.
So there you have it! Capers are the pickled flower buds of the Capparis shrub that is native to the Mediterranean. There are different varieties of capers, varying in size and flavor. They can be packaged in brine or salt, and pack a flavorful punch.
Capers are a wonderfully versatile ingredient that you won’t need a lot of to make the most of their taste.
What’s your favorite way to cook with capers? Let us know in a comment down below!
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What are capers and how do you cook with them? ›
In the U.S., capers are often served with appetizing spreads and used to garnish bagels, cream cheese and lox. When they're finely chopped, capers provide a bright, briny backbone to tapenade, sauces, dressings and compound butters. Capers can also be fried to create a crispy garnish.What are capers in a restaurant? ›
Capers are the small, pickled buds from the Capparis shrub which is native to the Mediterranean. These flower buds are picked by hand from the Capparis shrub and are then dried in the sun. Once the capers have become dried out they are then pickled in brine, wine, vinegar, or salt.How do you cook capers in cooking? ›
They have a sharp, salty flavor that lends itself well to seasoning. The small fruits of the caper plant, called caper berries, are also edible. It's necessary to cure capers before consuming them. This is done either by salting, brining in a solution of salt and water, or pickling in vinegar, salt, and water.What are capers and what do they taste like? ›
Capers are tangy, salty, and sometimes sour. Their aroma can be somewhat floral, while the texture is chewy and soft. The extent to which they taste sour or salty depends on the size of the capers and how they were prepared. The saltiness comes as an acquired taste from the manufacturing process.What is capers made of? ›
Capers are immature flower buds from the Capparis spinosa (aka the “caper bush”), which grow all over the Mediterranean, just like olives do. Caper buds are picked before they can bloom into flowers.Can capers be eaten raw? ›
Capers can be eaten raw, but they're most often incorporated into sauces or used as a flavorful topping for proteins.Are capers like pickles? ›
Capers are actually pickles made from the unopened flower buds of the Capparis spinosa shrub, which grows in the Mediterranean. In France, Italy and Spain, the shrubs are cultivated for capers, and Roquevaire, in Provence, is known as the "caper capital."Do you add capers before or after cooking? ›
They're best added near the end of cooking, like fresh herbs, to maintain their flavor and snappy texture. Like chopped pickles or lemon juice, capers can cut through richness in dishes with lots of fatty ingredients.Why do people eat capers? ›
Capers are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can neutralize harmful free radicals to prevent cell damage ( 1 , 6 ). Some research also indicates that antioxidants may reduce inflammation and protect against chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes ( 6 ).What is the best way to eat capers? ›
Use it as a dip, toss it with your favorite greens, or make a Caesar salad! I like mine extra fresh – with lots of chives, radishes, and roasted chickpeas for crunch. Here's another classic dressing where capers step in for anchovies. It's great on salads, but it can also double as a dip.
What is the best way to use capers? ›
They bond particularly well with citrus, tomato, fish, eggplant, pasta, and many other things." Capers sing with smoked fish; louisez serves them with cream cheese and smoked salmon on baguettes (or bagels, or potato rosti). And the zingy, salty brine is great sprinkled on popcorn, says Jr0717!What are capers and can you eat them? ›
Capers are the unopened bud and caper berries are the fruit, harvested much later in the season. You can eat both and we recommend popping a caper berry in a martini, but capers have a much sharper taste. The leaves of the caper bush can be eaten too.What type of capers are best? ›
Many experts agree, however, that dry-salted capers are superior in both flavor and texture. Salt-curing works magic on the nubs, playing up their floral, fruity flavors without drowning them in a one-note overtone, as vinegar tends to do.Are capers a fruit or vegetable? ›
Are capers a vegetable? While they're generally used in the vegetable portion of the meal, and not for dessert, capers are technically a fruit. They're harvested from flower buds. Small capers have a sturdy texture and deliver a zing of sour and salty flavor.Are capers a super food? ›
Are Capers Nutritious? Yes. Capers are, infact, called superfoods because they are low in cholesterol and yet a good source of protein, fiber, calcium, iron and numerous vitamins! Warning: eat pickled capers in moderation as they're high in sodium!Do capers have a fishy taste? ›
What do capers taste like? Capers add a floral, tangy, and salty flavor to dishes. They are salty because of the way manufacturers process and store them. "Capers are brined or packed in salt, which is where the flavor comes from."What can I substitute for capers? ›
The best substitute for capers? Chopped green olives! Use large green olives packed in water if you can find them — and don't get the filled kind! They can mimic the briny flavor of capers. Roughly chop them, then you can use 1 tablespoon chopped olives in place of 1 tablespoon capers.What is the liquid in a jar of capers? ›
Caper brine is the salty vinegar brine from the jar that capers are pickled in. Caper buds are often used as a garnish in many Mediterranean dishes, typically Italian .Should you rinse capers before using? ›
Capers that are dry-packed in salt are prized for their intense flavor, but usually are found only in specialty shops. They also must be rinsed very well before using. Brine- or vinegar-packed capers also can be rinsed, but it isn't essential.Do you rinse capers from the jar? ›
If they're packed in brine, drain them before using and rinse, if desired, to remove some of the saltiness. Salt-packed capers should be soaked for about 15 minutes in water and then rinsed.
Do capers have any health benefits? ›
Capers contain a variety of antioxidants, which play an important role in limiting oxidative stress and may even help to reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer. Capers are also a source of: Vitamin A. Vitamin E.Can you put capers on pizza? ›
To assemble the pizza
Spread the pizza base with tomato sauce or high-quality crushed strained tomatoes (passata) then top with mozzarella, anchovies and capers. Bake the pizza for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Let it rest for 5 minutes then serve!
Here are their guidelines for how long you can keep opened containers of common condiments (commercially produced, not homemade) in your refrigerator: BBQ Sauce: 4 months. Capers: 1 year (brined) Horseradish: 3-4 months (prepared)Do you crush capers? ›
For a more intense flavor, crush the capers with the back of a spoon before adding them to sauces. A tablespoon of crushed capers in 1/2 cup of sour cream makes a tasty dip for steamed, chilled artichokes or other vegetables.Should you saute capers? ›
Not only do they release their salty assertion into whatever they're cooking in—be it oil or sauce or butter and wine (piccata!) —but they also get soft and plump, ready to melt in your mouth rather than pop like a balloon. And when capers are not just gently sautéed but aggressively fried, they're even better.Should you refrigerate capers after opening the jar? ›
How to store Capers to extend their shelf life? You can help capers stay fresh longer by storing them unopened in the pantry where the temperature is always less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Once opened, the capers should be kept in the fridge. Be sure to keep the capers submerged in their liquid (brine).Are capers good for cholesterol? ›
The good: This food is very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Niacin, Calcium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Copper. The bad: This food is very high in Sodium.Are capers good for diabetes? ›
Capers might lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use capers in medicinal amounts.Are capers good for constipation? ›
Like many other plant-based foods, capers contain fiber, a type of carbohydrate. Your body can't digest fiber, and the nutrient helps to fill your stomach, soften your stools and prevent constipation without adding calories to your food.What meat goes well with capers? ›
Chicken Piccata with Capers
A classic way to serve up capers, buttery and bright piccata sauce is the perfect way to cook chicken breasts for an impressive dinner at home.
What are the two types of capers? ›
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAPERS
Capucines (8-9 mm) Capotes (9-11 mm) Fines (11-13 mm) Grusas (14 and over mm)
Capers are the edible flower buds that grow on a perennial plant called Capparis spinosa (or caper bush or Flinders rose). Some parts of the plant, which is native to the Mediterranean, that have no culinary purposes are used in the manufacture of medicines and cosmetics.Can you eat cooked capers? ›
No other preparation is necessary (unless the recipes calls for them to be mashed a bit). You can add them to a salad, cold, straight from the jar, as well as heat them up in whatever recipe you have cooking.Are capers a berry? ›
Capers and caper berries come from the same plant, but they are not the same things. Capers are flower buds that, when left on the shrub, produce white and purple flowers. The flowers contain stigmas that transform into caper berries.What is the difference between capers and nonpareil capers? ›
The bottom line is that capers are sold by size. The smaller the caper, the more delicate in texture and flavor it is. The smallest of capers, which measures under 7mm, is considered “non-pareil” (pronounced \,nän-pə-ˈrel\). Translated from French, “has no equal.”Are capers really salty? ›
They're a little sweet, a lot salty, and packed with flavor.Is capers a herb or spice? ›
Capers are mentioned as a spice in the Roman cookbook, Apicius.How do you use capers in food? ›
There's little prep needed and they can simply be added to salads (including pasta, chicken, and potato salads), used as a condiment or garnish, or chopped finely for dressings and sauces. They're also cooked with roasted vegetables and a variety of main dishes or used as a pizza topping.Can dogs eat capers? ›
Dogs cannot eat capers. Though capers are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants—including vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin K—the high salt content is hazardous for your pet, outweighing any potential health benefits.Are capers good for arthritis? ›
Kursi Caper (KC) is a Uighur medicine based on caper which is widely used to treat arthritis and rheumatism, and preliminary studies in our laboratory showed that this traditional formula may possess potent antiinflammatory effects.
Are capers good for weight loss? ›
There are several health benefits associated with capers. They are rich in antioxidants and may help support weight loss and promote healthy blood sugar levels, but more research is needed.Do capers make you gassy? ›
Capers retain water naturally since they contain a high amount of sodium. This water retention can make you feel bloated. Hence, be careful about eating an excessive amount of capers.What's the best way to eat capers? ›
Use it as a dip, toss it with your favorite greens, or make a Caesar salad! I like mine extra fresh – with lots of chives, radishes, and roasted chickpeas for crunch. Here's another classic dressing where capers step in for anchovies. It's great on salads, but it can also double as a dip.What do you add capers to? ›
Try stirring in a couple tablespoons of roughly chopped capers into tuna salad or the yolk mixture in your deviled eggs. They can also be fried and used to garnish dishes for a satisfying salty crunch. Capers also pair beautifully with seafood, like with lox on a bagel, or in this Smoked Salmon Pasta.Can you use capers straight from the jar? ›
They are satisfying to eat straight out the jar like pickles, but if you want to incorporate them more into your daily meals and entertaining menus, here are a few excellent ways to utilize capers. Salads - Throw a handful of capers into leafy greens or grain bowls.Can you just eat capers? ›
Bottom line. Capers offer a savory and bold flavor pop in tiny spherical packaging. A small amount of capers goes a long way. While these edible, pickled buds offer potential health benefits, you may be better off eating them sparingly, especially if you are watching your salt intake.Are you supposed to chop capers? ›
For cooking, tasters agreed that small capers are best because they can be used as is; larger capers are too potent to eat whole and should be chopped. Besides adding an extra step, chopped capers disintegrate when added to sauces.Are capers healthy? ›
Capers are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can neutralize harmful free radicals to prevent cell damage ( 1 , 6 ). Some research also indicates that antioxidants may reduce inflammation and protect against chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes ( 6 ).How do you use jar capers? ›
They bond particularly well with citrus, tomato, fish, eggplant, pasta, and many other things." Capers sing with smoked fish; louisez serves them with cream cheese and smoked salmon on baguettes (or bagels, or potato rosti). And the zingy, salty brine is great sprinkled on popcorn, says Jr0717!Why do people rinse capers? ›
Capers are usually brined in vinegar or packed in salt and should be rinsed to remove some of the salt otherwise your dish may be overseasoned. If you're planning to prepare a chicken piccata, for example, you should rinse your capers if they've been brined.
How long do capers last in fridge after opening? ›
Here are their guidelines for how long you can keep opened containers of common condiments (commercially produced, not homemade) in your refrigerator: BBQ Sauce: 4 months. Capers: 1 year (brined) Horseradish: 3-4 months (prepared)