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Capers: a traditional flavour of southern Europe

In Mediterranean countries, capers are part of everyday cooking.

Never eat them fresh and raw

The caper plant (Capparis spinosa) is a perennial shrub with fleshy leaves and pretty white or pinkish flowers. Capers have grown wild on stony hillsides around the Mediterranean for thousands of years. In spring, the still closed buds are picked by hand. Before they become edible, they must be dried ("withered") and pickled in brine, vinegar or oil. The typical piquant taste of capers comes mainly from capric acid and methyl mustard oil.

Well-known dishes with capers

Mediterranean cuisine traditionally uses salted capers. Rinse them before using them to remove the excess salt. Capers go very well with fish, but also with poultry, vegetables and salad. For the Italian starter "Vitello tonnato", cooked veal is sliced thinly and served with capers and a tuna sauce. "Salsa verde" is a green sauce made by blending fresh parsley, garlic, capers, anchovy fillets, vinegar and high-quality olive oil. The French olive paste "tapenade", served as a dip or spread, is made with capers and anchovies pounded together with the olives. If dishes are to be served hot, the capers are added at the end of the cooking time, so that the aroma is not lost. You’ll find that capers don’t mix well with strongly flavoured herbs like sage, oregano or rosemary.

Buying and storing capers

As usual, it pays to buy quality: the buds must be firm, closed and intact. The dark olive skin should have no more than a few pale spots on the top. Pickled capers can be stored in the refrigerator for some time, as long as they are covered with brine or oil. The smaller the capers, the stronger the taste. "Nonpareils" are the smallest, "surfines" are medium sized, while "capucines" and "capotes" are very large. If the buds aren’t picked, the flowers will open and eventually turn into caper berries, which are pickled, sold and used in the same way as capers. 


Source: Heike Kreutz, www.bzfe.de