The caper plant is a small-flowering bush that is usually seen growing wild along the Mediterranean coastline. It’s usually found clinging and protruding from rocks, mountainsides, and out of cracks in walls and structures along the way. The caper bush is rarely cultivated but does add to the stability of weaker foundations and soil with its strong root formations.
Capers can also be found growing in a number of other countries and islands along the Atlantic Ocean, Caspian Sea and Black Sea. And according to most botanists it most likely had its origins in drier regions of Central Asia.
Ancient Greeks and Romans have cited the uses of the caper plant and its berries for centuries. Initially they used it for medicinal purposes and then capers became widely used in cooking. Interestingly enough capers contain a high amount of rutin, a well-known bioflavinoid and anti-oxidant. It appears the early Greeks and Romans had it right and its use well founded for medicinal use.
Capers are the unopened buds that grow on the new limbs of a caper plant. Because the plants grow wild the berries are usually hand-harvested and picked regularly in the morning hours depending on the season and when the weather is dry and sunny.
The smallest and the most prized capers are known as “nonpareils” in the grading process used throughout France and Italy. They’re in the size range of a small pea and will grow to the size of a large green olive before they flower. You’ll find them being used in a variety of ways depending on the size and the flavor one is looking for in a particular dish.
There are many types of capers but the ones that are harvested the most and considered the best are those that usually come from plants that are spineless, have more rounded firm buds, and those that produce the best and most consistent flavors. Pantelleria is a tiny island off the coast of Italy. Connoisseurs as well as the Italian government recognize them as having the finest most outstanding quality and flavor of any capers on the market.
Capers have an unusual flavor that is sometimes considered more of an acquired taste. It’s a sharp, piquant, salty taste with a pungent aroma all their own. The different sizes and the way they are packed at harvesting allow them to be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
You may have tasted them already and not known it. Veal Piccata, fish, and a number of pasta sauces are probably the most well known recipes using capers.
Some other more popular ways to enjoy capers include a variety of pasta and piccata sauces, wine sauces, salad dressings, pizza, fish, veal, turkey, meats, relishes, tapenades, Mediterranean dishes, artichoke, vegetables, and olives. They can even be fried and then tossed into the dishes above for a crunchier, crispier flavor and texture.
Capers are packed in several different ways. Usually they are found on the store shelf bottled and pickled in vinegar, oil, brine or as more rarely found capers packed in sea salt. The latter in our opinion and according to a number of top chefs is by far the best way to buy capers. They need to be thoroughly rinsed before using but they retain an unequaled firmness and flavor that cannot be experienced with pickled capers.
Please be sure to try our fabulous recipes and our outstanding capers packed in sea salt from Pantelleria, Italy. We also carry a professional line of demi glace and over twelve different stocks including fish, seafood/lobster, chicken, beef, veal, lamb, turkey, duck and more from More Than Gourmet demi glace and stocks. They're simple, easy to use products that will add a natural richness and depth of flavor to all your favorite sauces, soups, stews, rice and pasta dishes, stir-fry, braising liquids and more.
This article was written by Jules Silver, webmaster of ClubSauce.com.