A Guide to Capers

By on April 13, 2016

The caper is one of those foods that a majority of people outside Europe have either never heard of or that have no idea what it is. Yet its distinctive flavor can make the difference between an average dish and a gastronomical delight.

Hollandaise Sauce with Asparagus and Capers

Hollandaise Sauce with Asparagus and Capers

What is a caper?

A caper is the unopened bud of a flower from a bush known as the Capparis spinosa. The bush grows wild in most Mediterranean countries and is commercially cultivated in countries like Italy, Spain, Greece and France. The bud is harvested between May and August and is picked in the early morning before the bud has time to open into a flower.

A Bit of History

Capers have been used for thousands of years and were mentioned as an ingredient in the story of Gilgamesh, which was found on ancient Sumarian clay tablets dating back to 2700 B.C and is possibly the oldest known written story.

Capers were also mentioned by the Roman, Apicus, who it is believed  to have written the very first cook book in the 1st Century, and in 40-90 AD by Dioscorides, a pharmacologist. He served as a surgeon in Nero’s army and described the caper as a “marketable product of ancient Greeks”.

Capers were not only used by the ancient Greeks as an ingredient in their cooking but they also used the roots and leaves of the plant for medicinal purposes.

What do they taste like?

The flavor itself is a peppery mustard flavor and is slightly astringent and pungent. You could equate it to the same flavor intensity as anchovies or olives and because of this they add flavoursome piquance to many sauces and condiments.

Capers direct from the bush are quite bland and to develop the intense flavor they are generally either preserved in vinegar or salt. It is the reaction that is generated between the salt or vinegar, and the caper that releases the flavor.Capers are generally not eaten direct from the jar to the same extent as one would eat olives but are instead added to a dish to enhance the flavor.

How do you use them when cooking?

Capers are perfect in pasta sauces and pizzas but can be used in a variety of other dishes including salads, fish and meat dishes. They work particularly well with anchovies. Because of the intense flavor of the caper only a small amount needs to be added to a dish.

Some of the most flavorful capers are packed in salt and should be rinsed in water prior to cooking. Capers packed in salt are not easily found on the supermarket shelf but with the advent of online shopping they can be purchased and shipped very quickly. Italy produces some of the finest and most prized capers on the Island of Pantelleria and can purchased at wwwclubsauce.com and at the following link: Capers in Salt.

Some Interesting Caper Facts

  • Capers are thought to assist with healthy liver function
  • They have been used in the manufacture of some cosmetics
  • Capers are said to reduce flatulence
  • They are known to be high in anti-oxidants
  • They are grown extensively in Spain, Greece, France and Italy.
  • The smaller the caper, the more valuable

Article provided courtesy of Only Cookware – a premier resource for cookwarestainless steel cookware andcast iron cookware sets.

Please be sure to try our fabulous capers in salt recipes and professional line of More Than Gourmet demi glace and stocks. We carry four different demi glace and over twelve different stocks including fish, seafood/lobster, chicken, beef, veal, lamb, turkey, duck and more. They’re simple, easy to use products that will add a natural richness and depth of flavor to all your favorite sauces, soups, stews, rice and pasta dishes, stir-fry, braising liquids and more.

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About The Saucemaster

I've followed the food show circuit for years, charted the winners, and personally tested the cooking sauces. Though there are literally thousands of items represented at the food shows, I've only selected the top gourmet sauces in their category for your cooking and dining pleasure.

2 Comments

  1. Karen

    April 15, 2016 at 9:59 am

    The lead to your article mentions caper berries which drew me to the article. You should have clarified that capers (which you discuss thoroughly) are different than caper berries which are the fruit of the same plant. They taste similar because of the brining but different size and texture. You could use caper berries interchangeably with capers if you chop them up. But they are different. Just clarifying……..

    • Matt Silver

      December 14, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      Ah yes! Thanks for catching that. Author’s mistake!

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