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Capers nutrition facts

Unique, piquant flavored capers are flowering buds of a low-growing caper shrub. The buds, indeed, are one of the most desired ingredients in the kitchens all around the Mediterranean basin. The buds botanically belong to the family of Capparaceae, in the genus: Capparis. Scientific name: Capparis spinosa.

The plant is a spiny, trailing, deciduous shrub native to the Mediterranean. It prefers warm, humid climate and grows in abundance all over the Cyprus, Italy, Greece, North African and some Asia Minor regions. The shrub begins producing flower (caper) buds from the third year of plantation.

capers buds in caper bush pickled capers
Capparis spinosa. Note for small immature flower buds.
Photo courtesy: cruccone
Pickled capers in the bowl.
Photo courtesy: naotakem

In general, their small cream-colored buds gathered by handpicking in the early morning hours of the day, which otherwise would unfold into a beautiful whitish-pink four sepal-flower with long tassels of purple stamens. Soon after harvesting, the buds washed and allowed to wilt in the sun for few hours before putting them into jars and covered with salt, vinegar, brine, or olive oil.

In the commercial practice, capers are categorized and sold by their size in the markets. Smaller sized buds fetch more value than large ones. Non-pareil, and surfines are some of the small bud types, while capucines, capotes, and grusas are sold as big size category capers.

Health benefits of capers

  • Being flower buds, capers are, in fact, very low in calories; provide just 23 calories per 100 g. Nonetheless, this spice contains many phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins essential for optimum health.

  • Capers are one of the highest plant sources of flavonoid compounds rutin (or rutoside) and quercetin. Capers, in fact, are the largest sources of rutin; 100 grams contain 332 mg of this compound. Also, Capers are a very rich source of quercetin (180 mg/100 g) second only to tea leaf. Both of these compounds work as powerful antioxidants. Research studies suggest that quercetin has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Furthermore, rutin strengthen capillaries and inhibits platelet clump formation in the blood vessels. Both these actions of rutin help in smooth circulation of blood in the capillaries. It has found application in some in trial treatments for hemorrhoids, and varicose veins. It also found to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the obese individuals.

  • The spicy buds contain healthy levels of vitamins such as vitamin-A, vitamin-K, niacin, and riboflavin. Niacin helps lower LDL cholesterol.

  • Furthermore, minerals like calcium, iron, and copper are present in sufficient amounts in them. High sodium level, however, is mainly due to the addition of sea salt (sodium chloride) in the brine.

Medicinal uses

  • Caper parts have been used to relieve rheumatic pain in traditional medicines.

  • Caper pickles traditionally added to recipes as an appetite stimulant. Also, they help reduce stomachache and flatulence conditions.

Selection and storage

If you are not from the countryside, then you most likely can find these beautiful tiny olive-green buds filled in a small, tall glass jar submerged in their pickling medium in the spice stores and groceries. Pickled capers can be readily available around the year in the markets.

Traditionally, buds washed in the cold water soon after their harvest and allowed to dry in the sun for few hours before being put into tall jars containing vinegar, brine, or olive oil. Alternatively, they can also be preserved in sea salt alone.

In general, small sized buds (less than 1 cm diameter) are considered more flavorful and therefore, preferred over the larger ones (more than 1 cm diameter). Capers should be preserved by immersing in the pickling medium; otherwise, they will soon become flavorless. Once you open the jar, make sure the bottle is refrigerated for future use. Use stainless steel spoon or fork to fish them out from the container.

Culinary uses

Capers, its tender shoots, as well as immature berries can be used in cooking. Raw buds have a neutral flavor and need to be processed in pickling medium to develop unique piquant, tangy flavor.

They featured in a variety of cuisines worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean cooking.

tuna with caper sauce
Tuna with caper sauce and lemon.
Photo courtesy: naotakem

Here are some serving tips:

  • They are added to prepare tartare (tuna, venison, salmon, etc.) and tomato sauce.

  • The pickled buds used as a flavoring in antipasto salads and as a topping in pizzas.

  • Capers render distinctive taste to vegetable, meat, veal and fish (especially along with anchovy sauce) recipes.

  • Remoulade a favorite aioli or mayonnaise-based sauce in the northern Europe, uses capers brine as one of the main ingredients.

Safety profile

Capers are safe to use in cooking. Their use may be limited in pregnancy. Patients undergoing any surgical intervention may have to avoid them as they act as a blood thinner and may result in excessive bleeding. (Medical Disclaimer).

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Further Resources:

1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

2. Journal of Agricultural and Food chemistry- Bioactive components of Capparis spinosa. L

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