Capers add a perfect touch to many dishes, especially smoked salmon.
Flowering and budding caper plant
Western Asia or Central Asia.
Capers grow wild all over the Mediterranean region and they are frequently cultivated, especially in France, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Iran, Cyprus and Greece.
Buds, harvested shortly before flowering. They are not dried but are pickled in oil, brine or vinegar. Smaller buds, known as nonpareilles and surfines are considered more valuable than the larger capucines and communes. Intensively flavoured pickled caper fruits or "caper berries" are less commonly traded.
Capparaceae (caper family).
The fragrance is spicy and slightly sour. After pickling the taste tends to be slightly astringent and pungent. Caper berries have a stronger and more dominant but otherwise similar flavour.
The botanical genus name capparis, English common name "caper" and its relatives in several European tongues can be traced to the Latin capparis, a word loaned from Greek kapparis, whose origin is unknown but is probably in West or Central Asia. Another theory links kapparis to the name of the island Cyprus (Kypros), where capers grow abundantly.
The names of capers in most European languages share a common Latin origin and are similar, e.g.: Italian cappero, French câpre, Swedish kapris, Russian kapersy and Spanish tápana. The Provençal name tapeno is the origin of the name tapenade for a famous French appetiser.
The species name spinosa "thorny" refers to the sharp thorns of the plant. The prefix al- in Iberic names (Portuguese alcaparra, Spanish alcaparrón) indicates that these names are derived from the Arabic al-kabara, rather than directly from the Latin.
The fragile and short-lived flowers of wild caper bushes are a common sight in all countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, extending as far South as the Sahara and East to the dry regions of Central Asia where the plant is thought to have originated.
Capers are integral to several Mediterranean cuisines and mostly associated with Italian and Cypriot foods. They are used in tomato or wine sauces and fit well to poultry and fish. They are popular with cold meat and frequently used for Italian pizza. Capers harmonise with other Mediterranean spices (basil, oregano and garlic) and are frequently combined with pickled olives.
A famous recipe from Italy is vitello tonnato "veal in tuna-flavoured sauce". A piece of veal shoulder is simmered in a well-flavoured mixture of vegetable broth and white wine, cut in thin slices and marinated with a special sauce, salsa tonnata, made from egg yolk, white wine, lemon juice, olive oil, canned tuna, anchovies and capers.
The cuisines of Central and Northern Europe with their general preference for lightly flavoured foods have also come to use capers, the main applications being cold dishes (fish salads, minced meat and savoury vegetable salads). Many sauces owe their special character to the addition of a few chopped capers but heating such sauces must be avoided, because the aroma of caper is quickly destroyed by higher temperature.
Königsberger klopse "East Prussian meatballs" is a dish comprising a mixture of ground meat, white bread, milk, eggs, anchovies and spices formed into dumplings, which are carefully boiled in a well-flavoured broth and served with a sauce made from cream, capers and lemon juice.
Caper berries are the fruits of the caper shrub, processed in much the same way as capers. The gherkin-shaped fruits have a strong caper flavour. Their use is not as widespread as that of capers and is mostly restricted to Spain which is also the main producer. The flavour of caper berries tolerates boiling much better than the flavour of caper buds.
Pickled capers are occasionally used as flavouring in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North-Western India. Capers were introduced to Central America by Spanish conquistadors and appear in some Mexican foods.