In Mediterranean cooking, carpers have a special place because of their appetizing flavor and versatility. Brined, dried, or pickled, most of us would love to enjoy the plethora of flavors it gives to a dish.
But what are these small green things and how are they used in cooking? That’s exactly what you’re going to read here. This article also explores the best capers substitutes you can use in a pinch.
What Are Capers?
Capparis spinosa is a prickly perennial plant native to the Mediterranean and some regions of Asia. Capers are the green buds (fruits) of this plant, harvested just before ripening, are dried in the sun, and then pickled in salt, brine, wine, or vinegar. It’s necessary to cure capers before consuming them. In the process of seasoning, the bud turns into a salty, green pea-sized ball with a lemony flavor.
Today, caper plants are widely cultivated in some parts of Italy, Morocco, Australia, Spain, and some regions of Asia.
Capers, packed in brine or salt, are stored in an airtight jar. Brine-packed capers stay intact for 9 months or more at room temperature, and longer in the refrigerator. Salt-packed carpers can be preserved for up to 6 months at room temperature.
Where to Buy Capers
In the pickled food aisle of most grocery stores, supermarkets, or organic food stores you’ll find carpers for sale. You can buy carpers from online and gourmet food stores. If they aren’t available in your place, the next best option is using a substitute for carpers.
Caper vs. Caperberry
Carper is the immature buds of carper blossoms whereas caper berry is the buds that fully develop into berry-like fruit. Caperberry is a mature fruit double the size of a carper and about the size of an olive. Like the kiwi seeds, caper berries have tiny seeds inside the fruit. Pickled seeds of caperberry are a wonderful garnish for martinis and bloody-mary cocktails.
What Do Capers Taste Like?
The taste of capers is described as salty, lemony, and olivey. The flavor of the capers varies according to the methods and ingredients used for curing or pickling. Capers cured in salt are salty, slightly vegetal, and sweet beside the common flavors like tangy, acidic, or sour with mild bitterness. The capers cured in vinegar or brine have a tangy lemon-like flavor, similar to green olives. The sharpness of the flavor depends on the standard of seasoning.
How To Use Capers In Cooking?
Caper is a regular ingredient in several Mediterranean recipes as a flavoring agent. Usually, they are used in small quantities because of their strong tangy, lemony, and salty flavor. Just a few capers are enough to give a balance of flavors in the recipe.
Preferably, before using them in your dish, rinse the capers to remove the strong vinegar or slat flavor, also it allows the original flavor of the carpers to come through.
In liquid thin recipes like sauces, use finely diced capers and few other recipes with delicate texture may call for them in a puree like tapenade. In regular vegetable or meat dishes, use them by simply adding them to a hot pan with other ingredients. It’s best to add capers to your dish, toward the end of the cooking or else high heat may diminish their flavor.
What Is A Good Substitute For Capers?
The salty and tangy capers are a wonderful addition to pasta, a salmon dish, sauces, chicken piccata, bagels, and many more. It becomes necessary for you to find a substitute for capers because of their unavailability, taste, or allergic issues.
There are enough ingredients that can very well replace capers in your recipe. Find the best alternatives to capers listed below:
Green olives are acidic, salty, and tangent like the capers. Also, capers are loved for their olivey taste as well.
For being larger in size, cut the green olives into capers like size and use them in recipes that call for capers. Use one green olive as a substitute for every two capers.
Black olives are a nice ingredient to use as a swap for capers though not as great as green olives. Comparatively, black olives have a mild flavor and softer texture from their green cousins. They have a mild burst of salty, tangy, and bitter taste like capers. Despite the mild flavor, in times of emergency, black olives are a manageable replacement for capers.
If you love capers for their lemony flavor, then you can have the same in a lemon. Both of them have a similar acidic flavor. Preferably, adding a pinch of ground black pepper to lemon juice can bring in some heat and bitterness similar to capers. Note, lemon is much more sour and acidic than capers, thus use them cautiously while substituting.
Dill pickle offers a combination of sweet and sour taste with a crunchy bite. The crisp, firm texture of dill pickle needs to be sliced up to use in recipes that call capers. Dill pickle lacks the pleasant bitterness of capers, but their salty and tangy flavors tally. While substituting, crush the crispy chunks of dill pickle into caper-size pieces and sub in equal amounts.
Pickled Green Peppercorns
Green peppercorns preserved in vinegar or brine, or pickled is a good stand-in ingredient for capers. They are less spicy than black peppercorns but have a mild peppery taste. Pickled green peppercorns have tanginess and a slight bitterness similar to capers. Use them in place of capers in equal amounts or use them as a garnish.
Caperberries are fully matured and ripened capers. They are milder in taste and bigger in size, yet a manageable emergency replacement for capers. Caperberries preserved in brine/vinegar or pickled are nearly the same as the capers. As they are bigger in size, use one caper berry instead of 3 capers.
Pickled Nasturtium Seeds
Tender nasturtium seeds pickle is a lot similar to capers in taste and texture. It’s a worthy substitute for capers provided if you enjoy the distinct peppery flavor of this seed similar to radish. Note, mature nasturtium seedpods have a very hard, unpleasant seed inside, but their tender seeds are easily digestible and edible.
The flavor features of thyme have many things in common with capers. The most similar things between them are the notes of bitterness and lemony taste. Adding thyme to your dishes as a substitute for capers is a nice option to consider especially in slow-cooked dishes and sauces. Importantly, thyme differs from capers in texture and appearance, also their minty flavor is a distinct disparity.