They're a popular ingredient in Mediterranean cooking.

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If you frequently cook Mediterranean dishes, then you're most likely familiar with capers. These tiny green berries pack a punch and what they lack in size, they more than make up for with their briny, acidic flavor. Ahead, we're sharing what you should know about pickled capers and the more mature caperberries, as well as our favorite ways to cook with both ingredients.

Capers
Credit: Courtesy of Lejla Siljak/EyeEm

What Are Capers?

Do you know that capers are actually flower buds? The caper plant, known by its scientific name as Capparis Spinosa, grows on a trailing shrub native to the Mediterranean region—specifically Italy, Turkey, and Spain. Capers are harvested in the spring and early summer when the buds are still tightly closed; they're then dried in the sun and pickled. The delicate, salty buds are a key element of Mediterranean cooking. The size of capers varies; the smallest, more-common kind are called nonpareils.

When you buy capers in the grocery store, they will be pickled and packed either in salt or brine. If they're packed in brine, drain them before using and rinse, if desired, to remove some of the saltiness. Salt-packed capers should be soaked for about 15 minutes in water and then rinsed. Our food editors prefer salt-packed capers because they are generally better quality, fresher, and offer better flavor and aroma. Salt-packed capers also tend to keep their shape and firmness, too.

The flavor of pickled capers tends to be tangy and salty—and the best kinds will balance the two without being overwhelming. Raw capers are a different, less appealing story; they're a distant relative of the cabbage plant and contain a similar bitter flavor that somewhat resembles a radish. Brining raw capers not only changes their flavor, but also makes their texture softer and easier to eat.

Caperberries Versus Capers

Caperberries grow on the same bush as capers, appearing after the buds have bloomed, which affects their size. Caperberries are much larger than nonpareil capers—they generally tend to be the size of a grape or olive. Just like regular capers, you'll find these in stores cured in brine in a glass jar, which makes them a nice alternative to olives for martinis.

Recipes That Use Capers

From pasta to seafood to salads, there are so many different ways to use capers. You can frizzle them in olive oil in a sauté pan, which leads to a crispy exterior, or sprinkle them on a finished dish as a garnish just before serving. It's a simple way to pack a punch of briny flavor.

dutch baby with smoked salmon and capers
Credit: Lennart Weibull

Dutch Baby with Smoked Salmon and Capers

Think of a Dutch baby as a giant, family-friendly pancake. This version is inspired by a bagel and lox—once the pancake finishes cooking in a cast-iron skillet, it is topped with paper-thin slices of smoked salmon, sour cream, and capers.

Ravioli with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Capers
Credit: Kate Sears

Ravioli with Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Capers

Salty capers are a fabulous contrast to juicy tomatoes and eggplant in this summer recipe inspired by pasta primavera. We paired the vegetables with vegetarian ravioli (choose between cheese or spinach ravioli!) for a flavorful dish.

Black Sea Bass with Capers and Herb-Butter Sauce in large pan
Credit: Ryan Liebe

Sautéed Black Sea Bass With Capers and Herb-Butter Sauce

Capers paired with seafood is a classic combination. This sauce—which garnishes the sea bass—is made from vermouth, one tablespoon of capers, butter, and plenty of fresh herbs. It's an elegant way to upgrade the buttery, flaky fillets of fish.

salmon-nicoise-092-d112989.jpg
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Salmon Nicoise with Caper Dressing

You can enjoy a taste of France from the comfort of your own home with this gentle twist on a classic Niçoise salad that's made with salmon instead of tuna. The dressing couldn't be easier to make: Simply whisk together the zest and juice of a lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, and two tablespoons of capers.

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