Despite being widely used in a number of dishes all around the world, there are many people out there who still don’t really know what a caper is. Is it a vegetable?
Is it some kind of nut?
So this begs the question: what exactly are capers, and what are they used for within cooking?
What Is A Caper?
Perhaps surprisingly to some people, while being vegetation, capers are not actually vegetables or nuts.
In actuality, capers are edible flower buds that can be found on the branches of the capparis spinosa – otherwise known as the caper bush, or the ‘Flinders Rose’.
The bush itself is perennial, meaning that it has the potential for live for more than 2 years – making the caper bush itself a very profitable plant for growers, as they can have more than one harvest from a single plant.
What Do Capers Taste Like?
Generally speaking, capers have a taste that is similar to green olives – often with a lemony aroma, and just a hint of tartness.
As such, they are often used as an ingredient within various sauces to provide that little bitter, tart jolt of flavor.
They can also add different accents to numerous dishes, and their use depends on how they are prepared, what they are soaked in, and how they are cooked.
Where Are Capers Found?
The plant has quite a wide range throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the Arabian Peninsula, and many areas within western and central Asia.
However, the plant can also be found throughout Spain, Southern Portugal, as well as the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, the Dalmation Islands of Croatia, and even as far east as Albania.
What Makes A Good Harvest?
For a profitable and good harvest of capers, they need to be grown in areas with prolonged heat and sunlight, as well as a period of long growing.
Generally speaking, they need around three months of growing time within the same hot temperatures in order to produce what would be considered a profitable harvest for farmers.
As a rule, caper buds are usually picked in the morning, as the smaller, younger buds fetch the most profit from buyers.
They can also be found readily in the wild, and those who know what they are looking for can forage the ingredients they need for their own recipes and dishes.
What Are Capers Used For?
While they are used in numerous dishes all around the world, one of the common applications in the west is in tartar sauce – usually served with fish in the United Kingdom, as well as other seafood dishes in the United States.
Tartar sauce generally includes a mayonnaise base, sliced pickles, capers, and lemon juice – with the softness of the mayo, and the sourness of the lemon juice perfectly complimenting the tart bitterness of the capers, and the sharpness of the pickles.
They are also commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine, where they are commonly used as additives, seasonings, or garnishes for other dishes.
Throughout Italy, they are also commonly used in pastas, salads, meat dishes, and even pasta sauces.
How Are Capers Stored?
Generally speaking, capers come in jars containing brine, salt, and vinegar to keep them pickled, tasty and long lasting.
This allows them to be used in the same way that jarred pickles might be used, or any other pickled vegetable that can be eaten as either a snack or an ingredient.
Are Capers Healthy?
By themselves, capers are considered a healthy thing to include in your balanced diet – but this only really applies to fresh capers that have just been picked from the bush.
Obviously when you soak them in salt, vinegar, and any number of other preserving agents, they lose many of their health benefits, and can be a bad source of salt.
Are There Any Health Benefits?
However, in fresh, unprocessed capers, there are numerous reported health benefits that make them an integral part of the so-called ‘Mediterranean diet’.
One benefit of capers is that they are rich in antioxidants – which can be beneficial for all manner of health problems associated with the aging process.
As we age, our cells begin to oxidize, which causes them to break down over time.
However, with an antioxidant rich diet, it is thought that people can slow down the aging process, and avoid many of the wear and tear associated issues that arise with old age.
There is also some evidence to suggest that they could support weight loss – namely due to their low calorific content, their low fat content, and their general healthy properties.
By swapping other additives in recipes with capers, you can achieve an equally pleasant and rich flavor without adding harmful ingredients.
There is also some evidence that could suggest benefits towards type 2 diabetes.
This is because certain components within capers can help with blood sugar management – specifically how the body processes the sugars it comes into contact with.
By managing this reaction, and leveling off the sugar highs, blood sugar levels can be brought into line.
How Nutritional Are Capers?
Canned, pickled capers are around 84% water, 5% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and 1% fat.
As mentioned above, processed, pickled capers are particularly high in sodium, which can make them especially unhealthy for people with conditions like heart disease.
Roughly speaking, a typical serving of capers (one ounce) delivers around 35% of your daily sodium intake, making them incredibly high for such a small item of food.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about capers, what they are, and what they are used for within cooking.
It’s true that, despite their popularity and widespread use, many people still aren’t sure what exactly they are.
However, thanks to this handy guide, you too can learn more about the caper, and what uses they have within the culinary world.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Pinch salt
- 2 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup wine dry white
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter cold and cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons capers drained
- 2 lemon wedges
- In a shallow dish, mix together the flour and salt.
- Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture until coated.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil.
- Add the chicken and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side.
- Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.
- Pour the white wine into the skillet and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Add the lemon juice and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, until the sauce is smooth.
- Stir in the capers.
- Return the chicken to the skillet and coat with the sauce.
- Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side. Enjoy!