What Are Capers and What Do They Taste Like?
And what’s a good substitute?
What the heck makes capers so tangy and delicious? Let’s get to the bottom of this … mystery. (HA! You thought I was going to say it and I didn’t).
What Are Capers?
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.
The small, green, round capers are about the size of corn kernels. They usually are pickled and used as a seasoning or as a garnish.
Capers, one of the ingredients of tartar sauce, are often served with salmon dishes.
Get the Recipe: Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette
Capers vs. Caper Berries
Capers, the flower buds, are not to be confused with caper berries, the fruit of the plant.
The buds will eventually produce white and pink flowers if left unharvested, followed by berries.
Caper berries, which are olive-sized, are larger than capers.
Both capers and caper berries are edible and generally pickled.
What Do Capers Taste Like?
Capers, though quite small, pack a big punch: They’re quite tangy and add a lemony, olivey burst of flavor to dishes.
The caper’s intensity comes from the mustard oil (methyl isothiocyanate) that is released from glucocapparin molecules.
Get the recipe: Lemon-Caper Parmesan Potato Salad Bites
Capers and Piccata
Piccata is an Italian word that refers to flour-coated meat (most often chicken or veal) and sautéed in a sauce made of lemon juice, butter, and capers.
Capers, combined with lemon juice, are essential to the classic meal’s signature tanginess.
Get the recipe: Chicken Piccata
Substitute for Capers
Green olives: Capers have a somewhat olivey taste, so green olives are an effective substitute when you don’t have any capers on hand. It’s important to remember that olives aren’t quite as pungent as capers and they’re a lot bigger, so keep those facts in mind when you’re substituting one for the other.
Thyme: Thyme’s strong flavor makes it a great substitute for capers. However, since it’s an herb and not a plant bud, thyme isn’t going to give your food any additional texture like capers will.
Pickled artichoke hearts: If you get halfway through your chicken piccata recipe and realize you’re out of capers, pickled artichoke hearts may be a good stand-in.
Capers, which are low in cholesterol, are a good source of:
- Vitamins A, C, E, and K
However, since pickled capers are extremely high in sodium, they should be consumed in moderation.
Where Are Capers In the Grocery Store?
Capers are usually found in the grocery store near the pickles and olives. Caper brands you may be familiar with are Mezzetta and Reese, though most stores stock generic jars that are cheaper equally tasty.
Recipes With Capers
Looking for dinner ideas? Try one of our flavor-packed caper recipes:
- Quick Chicken Piccata
- Braised Chicken with Olives, Capers, and Prunes
- Lemon Caper Vinaigrette
- Pan Seared Scallops with Mustard-Caper Sauce
- Roast Duck with Duck Fat Potatoes, Capers, and Parsley