Photo by Stuart in Brighton
What is a Caper?
Oh, this is fun stuff! A caper is the pickled or salt preserved, unopened flower bud of a shrub (Capparis spinosa) originally from Western and Central Asia. Capers grow wild in the Mediterranean (a.k.a. weed), and are also cultivated in Southern Europe. When allowed to flower, the resulting fruit is called a caper berry. Caper berries are larger than capers and similarly preserved.
Flavor and Use
Capers contain bitter oil similar to those found in cabbages and mustard, and this flavor may peak through the pickling. Don’t let this put you off trying capers. Capers are slightly spicy, and tangy and salty due to pickling. Caper berries have a stronger flavor. Be sure to wash the brine from the capers to get a truer flavor.
Capers are most commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine. I like to think of capers as funny, little olives. Capers are peppery, pungent, piquant, tangy, and tart. They can be added to sauces, salads, meats, and vegetable dishes.
Size Does Matter
The smaller buds are tender and aromatic, while the larger buds are stronger in flavor and less aromatic. The smallest are Nonpareille (from France) and the largest, Grusas (from Italy), are the size of a fingertip.
Nonpareille – 0 to 7mm
Surfines – 7 to 9mm
Caupcines – 8 to 9mm
Capotes – 9 – 11mm
Grusas 14mm and larger
Other Edible Unopened Flower Buds
The most familiar are artichokes, and the tops of broccoli and cauliflower. Cloves are also unopened flower buds that have been dried. Not so commonly eaten unopened flower buds are pickled daisy buds, pickled nasturtium buds, pickled chicory buds, dried dandelion buds, dried daylily buds, and steamed sunflower buds.