A number of Italian, French and Greek recipes call for an ingredient not often found in American dishes — a flavor enhancer known as capers.
What are Capers Made From?
Capers are sometimes confused with the brined and dried fish called anchovies, since both are harvested from the same regions and are processed similarly. They are actually immature buds plucked from a small bush native to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions of the world. Fresh blossoms are not especially flavorful, but their sharpness increases dramatically after sun-drying and brining in vinegar.
Where Do Capers Come From?
Capers ready for the marketplace are usually packed into distinctive glass jars filled with coarse salt or vinegar brine. A number of kitchen supply stores and grocery stores carry them, so cooks should not have difficulty finding enough for a recipe. Taken straight out of the jar, they are far too salty for consumption, so professional chefs recommend placing them in a small strainer and rinsing them under running water before adding them to sauces or meats. Because the flavor can be so intense, most recipes only require a few to add sharpness to a savory dish or sauce.
What Do Capers Taste Like?
Once rinsed, capers make a delicious addition to dishes and sauces. Capers are frequently used as an extra touch of flavor or garnish in foods because of their flavor. Capers are sometimes compared to green olives in taste, though not texture. Green olives have a distinct, salty taste that capers have as well, even after a good rinse. The salty flavor comes from being prepared and packed in salty brine. Even after the brine is rinsed from the surface of the caper, the flavor remains.
What are Capers Used For?
Mediterranean cuisine has used capers for thousands of years. In fact, they were often used as informal currency among merchants traveling ancient trade routes. They became a favorite addition to fish sauces and marinades, along with brined and dried anchovies. The indigenous bush which produces capers is very well-suited to the sandy and nutrient-poor soil found in the Middle East region. These bushes can often be found growing between the cracks of sidewalks and broken roads. Processing the buds can be a labor-intensive process, since harvesters must pick the immature blossoms at a specific point in their growth cycle.
How Do Capers Grow?
If the immature blossoms are not selected to become pickled capers, they will sometimes turn into caper berries, which bear some resemblance to olives. The berries are not used in the same way as the buds in recipes. They are more likely to be eaten as a snack or added to savory salads or dressings. Caper berries are sometimes marketed as capers, but the two should not be confused when cooking. Most recipes call for the small buds, not the larger and less salty berries.
Where are Capers in the Grocery Store?
Capers can be found in many grocery stores, including health stores and big-chain grocery stores. There are two primary spots where shoppers can find jars of capers. Some stores keep their jars of capers next to the pasta sauces in the pasta aisle because of the tendency to toss capers onto completed pasta dishes. Most stores keep their jars of capers in the condiment aisle near the sauces, olives, and pickles. Some shoppers may also find capers on online grocery sites. Wherever shoppers find them, capers make a delicious, healthy addition to many meals, including salmon toast and pasta dishes.
Are Capers Good for You?
Capers are small, but they pack a mighty punch when it comes to health benefits. Capers contain antioxidants that are known to help in cancer prevention. Capers also contain vitamin A, vitamin E, manganese, niacin, and even calcium. Because capers are often used to top meals or tossed onto food items as a small garnish or for bursts of flavor, it’s best to remember to rinse them before eating. While capers contain antioxidants and a variety of vitamins, they are also notoriously high in sodium, so rinse them for all of the health benefits without the added sodium. Even non-pareil varieties of capers have health benefits.
What are Non-Pareil Capers?
Non-pareil is a French term that means something is without equal or without parallel, implying that it’s the best available. Non-pareil capers are usually smaller in size and more delicate in texture, so the flavor is often better. These capers are also considered a higher quality product compared to regular capers. Non-pareil capers also tend to be more expensive because of their better flavor and texture. Grocery stores may have non-pareil and regular varieties of capers next to each other, so check the label before purchasing to ensure that you’re purchasing the right type of caper. Whether you purchase capers or non-pareil capers, you’ll want to be aware of how long capers last once opened.
Do Capers Go Bad?
Most jars of capers have an expiration date on the jar or lid. This date refers to the date that an unopened jar of capers can last in a pantry or on a shelf. Once the capers are opened, you should store them in the refrigerator to maintain their freshness. After you’ve opened up your jar of capers, they can last in your fridge for about a year if stored properly.
Truthfully, an unopened jar of capers can last beyond the given expiration date, but it’s best to check the capers for any signs of spoilage. Once capers have gone bad, you may see signs of mold, or they may have an odor that isn’t normal. Capers with an unusual smell or appearance should be tossed and replaced with a fresh jar.
How to Use Capers
Capers are often added to chicken piccata or smoked salmon on toast, but there are other ways to make use of capers. Chopped capers can add a flavorful touch to egg salad, tuna salad, or deviled eggs. Capers also make a nice addition to many seafood pasta dishes or lemony pasta dishes. Some people also use capers in Caesar salads or fresh green salads for a tangy crunch. You can also add capers to vegetarian meals, like fried eggplant or squash, for added flavor and a nutritional boost. Don’t limit your caper usage to only chicken piccata and lox on toast. Capers are a flavorful addition to a variety of meals and dishes.