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Caper, scientifically known as Capparis Spinosa L, is a tropical perennial bush that is popular for its white and at times pinkish white flowers and the buds. The flowers and buds, which are very high in sodium content along with iron and calcium, are generally pickled or salted which are some popular ways of preserving caper. Today, this perennial plant is mostly produced in the Mediterranean regions such as Turkey, Morocco, southeastern Iberian Peninsula and Pantelleria and Salina that are part of the Italian islands. Salted and pickled caper flowers, fruits/berries and buds are generally used as seasoning and garnishing in many recipes. The dark olive colored bud of this shrub is the main ingredient of many delicious Mediterranean recipes that use caper.

History of Caper Recipes

Caper has a history that dates back to 3000 BC, wherein it was mentioned as a part of food in the Sumerian cuneiform Gilgamesh, which talks about the great flood and ark legend. With its aphrodisiac properties, the plant has been mentioned even in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes. However, this shrub is believed to have originated in Asia, though it is abundantly grown in the Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Caper recipes have a predominant Greek influence. The term ‘capparis’ is believed to have originated from the name Cyprus and it is a well known fact that this Greek island is popular for caper.

Culinary Uses of the Ingredient in Caper Recipes

Capers are known to have a sharp mustard-like peppery flavor and have many culinary uses. Some common uses are:

  • Pickled in brine, capers can be used in salads, sauces, stews, vegetables such as tomatoes, pizza, eggs, poultry and meat.
  • They go well with pasta and seafood (such as anchovies).
  • Non-pickled capers can be chopped and added to various dishes, just before taking the dish off the stove.
  • It can be used as olive substitute in drinks that use olives.

Some popular dishes that use caper are tartar sauce, tapenade, remoulade sauce and scalloppine.

Popular Caper Recipes

Caper is an important ingredient in innumerable recipes, especially in the Mediterranean cuisine. Some popular caper recipes are:

  1. Anchovy Spread – This delicious Italian dish is generally used as a spread on toast. The spread is made with anchovy, capers and the Italian Bel Paese cheese. After anchovies are soaked in milk (for about 30 minutes) and then pat- dried, they are blended along with other ingredients such as capers, cheese, lemon juice, butter, cayenne pepper, ground nutmeg and hot pepper sauce. All the ingredients, except capers, are first blended and then the capers are added. This spread is popular on hot toasts.
  2. Asparagus Potato Salad – This popular American dish is made with waxy potatoes and asparagus with a dose of capers, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, and mayonnaise. All the ingredients are tossed and seasoned with dill. It is a delicious side dish.
  3. Eggplant Caponata with Chives – The main ingredients of this dish are eggplants, sweet onions, Roma tomatoes, capers, and toasted pine nuts. All these ingredients along with certain spices such as anchovy paste, black olives, chopped garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, ground pepper, and celery stick, make an excellent dish of Eggplant Caponata. Adding chives to the dish is optional. This sautéed dish is an excellent side dish that gets its distinctive flavor from capers.

There are other popular caper recipes as well, such as Fish stuffed with tapenade, Lush Tomato Salad, Caper Butter, Cheesy Meatballs with caper sauce, Chicken Deviled Eggs, etc.

Popular Cuisines that offer Caper Recipes

Caper is popular and a common ingredient used in the Mediterranean region. However, there are other cuisines too that use this piquant ingredient. The cuisines that include caper recipes as part of their various courses are –

  1. Italian – pastas, salads, pizzas, chicken piccata, puttanesca, pasta sauces, etc.
  2. Greek – The fruits of caper also known as caper berries is a popular snack of the Greek cuisine. Even the buds are pickled and served as Greek mezze. The leaves are pickled (by boiling and preserving them in brine water) and used in various salads and fish dishes in the Greek cuisine. The dried leaves are also useful as they can substitute rennet in making cheese.
  3. American – In this cuisine, capers are used in many ways. One distinctive use is in tartar sauce which is generally served with fried fish and also with cured salmon or cold smoked salmon. Brined capers are also used as olive substitutes in drinks such as Martini.

Other uses of Caper and Caper Recipes

Caper not only has culinary uses, but also certain medicinal qualities. It is used as a carminative to help prevent formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. The root and leaves are known to have anti-carcinogenic properties, which help in controlling the risk of cancer. Even the rutin, quercetin and selenium present in capers are known to control cancer to a certain extent. However, people who are on a sodium-free diet should avoid caper.

Caper: Trivia

Caper spurge that belongs to the caper family and has buds that look like caper should be avoided as they are poisonous. They cause nausea, paleness and irregular pulse, burning of mouth, dizziness, delirium and finally fainting.