Capers are the unripened flower buds of Capparis spinosa or Capparis inermis.
This plants has been known for few millennia and is native to the Mediterranean.
It is closely related to the cabbage family, but the plant is more reminiscent of a rose bush.
They have been used for thousands of years with mention of them as an ingredient in the Gilgamesh, possibly the oldest written story known, which was found on ancient Sumarian clay tablets and which date back to c. 2700 B.C.
They are also mentioned by Apicus, a Roman who is said to have written the very first cookery book in the 1st Century and by Dioscorides (c.40-90 AD), a pharmacologist who served as a surgeon in Nero’s armies as a “marketable product of ancient Greeks”.
Today, capers are found growing wild all over Mediterranean and are also cultivated in many countries including France, Spain, Italy, Morocco and Algeria.
The shrubby plant is many-branched, with alternate leaves, thick and shiny, round to ovate. The flowers are complete, sweetly fragrant, and showy, with four sepals and four white to pinkish-white petals, and many long violet-colored stamens, and a single stigma usually rising well above the stamens.
They can be grown from seed or cuttings and whilst the plants last 20 to 30 years, a full yield can only be expected in 3 to 4 years.
Harvesting capers is an arduous process because they can only be picked by hand. They’re too small and delicate to be plucked by machine, so they’re harvested individually. It’s what makes them so expensive. After being picked, they are dried in the sun, then pickled in vinegar, brine, wine, or salt.
Intense flavor, sometimes described as being similar to black pepper or mustard, is developed as mustard oil (glucocapparin) is released from each caper bud.
There are only 23 calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of capers.
Capers are one of the highest plant sources of flavonoid compounds rutin (or rutoside) and quercetin. The spicy buds contain healthy levels of vitamins such as vitamin-A, vitamin-K, niacin, and riboflavin. Furthermore, minerals like calcium, iron, and copper are present in sufficient amounts in them.
The health benefits of capers include help fight the risk of anemia, smooth circulation of blood, healthy blood vessels, strong bones and teeth, protection from allergies, healthy digestive system, reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the obese individuals
Capers are categorized and sold by their size, defined as follows, with the smallest sizes being the most desirable: non-pareil (up to 7 mm), surfines (7–8 mm), capucines (8–9 mm), capotes (9–11 mm), fines (11–13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm). Larger capers are stronger in flavor and more acidic.
The salted and pickled caper is often used as a seasoning or garnish.
Capers are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially in Sicilian, Aeolian and southern Italian cooking. They are commonly used in salads, pasta salads, meat dishes, and pasta sauces.
They are often served with cold smoked salmon or cured salmon dishes.
Capers are known for being one of the ingredients of tartar sauce.
Caper leaves, which are hard to find outside of Greece or Cyprus, are used particularly in salads and fish dishes. They are pickled or boiled and preserved in jars with brine—like caper buds.
Capers are not the same as caperberries. While capers are the immature flower buds of the bush, caperberries are the fruit the bush produces once the buds have flowered and been fertilized.