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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 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 are 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 are washed and allowed to wilt for few hours in the sun before putting them into jars and covered with salt, vinegar, brine, or olive oil.

In 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 small buds, 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, 23 calories per 100 g. However, this spice-bud contains many phytonutrients, anti-oxidants and vitamins essential for optimum health.

  • Capers are one of the plant sources high in flavonoid compounds rutin (or rutoside) and quercetin. Capers are in-fact very rich source of quarcetin (180 mg/100 g) second only to tea leaf. Both of these compounds work as powerful anti-oxidants. 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 very small vessels. Rutin has found application in some in trial treatments for hemorrhoids, varicose veins and in bleeding conditions such as hemophilia. It also found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in 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 them. High sodium levels are because of added granular sea salt (sodium chloride).

Medicinal uses

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

  • The spicy caper pickles traditionally added to recipes as appetite stimulant. In addition, they help relieve 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 narrow 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, soon after their harvest, the buds are hand washed 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 size buds (less than 1 cm diameter) are considered more flavorful than the larger buds (more than 1 cm diameter). Capers should be preserved by immersing in the pickling medium; otherwise, they will soon develop off-flavor. Once you open the jar, make sure the bottle is refrigerated for future use. Use stainless steel spoon or fork to take them out from the jar.

Culinary uses

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

They feature in 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 tonnato sauce.

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

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

  • Remoulade is a popular aioli or mayonnaise based sauce in northern Europe uses capers brine as one of the main ingredient.

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 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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