Capers, I’m going to admit something straight away and some of you may laugh, some of you may even stop reading because you’re judging my stupidity so much. But, until this year (2022) I thought capers were a type of seafood. I have no idea what led me to believe this, all I knew about them was that they were small and black and salty, and I assumed they originated from the sea. That’s until I said yes to eating capers in a pasta dish a couple of weeks back and then had to do a bit of research. Oh how wrong I was.
In case you don’t know, like I didn’t three weeks ago, capers unripened flower buds from a caper bush. The bushes are commonly found in the Mediterranean which is why you find them in a lot of Spanish and Italian dishes. But, that doesn’t mean you can go picking capers and eating them, in fact they are almost inedible fresh because of how sharp the taste is. This is why they need to be pickled or dried, so they are actually edible.
Capers: The process
One of the most important things to note when buying capers is that you choose capers and not caperberries. These both come from the same plant, however capers are the flowerbuds whereas caperberries are the fruit that grow later on the trees. Caperberries are much larger in size and don’t carry the pungent taste that capers do. That being said, if you’ve accidentally picked up caperberries don’t let them go to waste, stick them in your martini and you’ll look like an expert cocktail maker.
One of the reasons capers are so expensive is because they are small and delicate, this means they have to be hand picked and therefore it is a much longer process than larger fruits that can be picked using machines or vehicles. From here, there are a couple of routes you can take: First you can dry the capers out, but this is a longer process and usually more costly. Otherwise you can salt them in brine using salty water, or pickle them in vinegar, salt and water.
If you’re big into your food and you know your then you probably think I’ve committed blasphemy by giving the option of pickling capers. Many people don’t like buying pickled capers because the vinegar removes many of the original flavours of the caper, however pickled capers are usually a more cost effective option and still add a certain je ne sai quoi to many dishes.
Are they worth the cost?
Apart from being expensive because of the process they undertake to go from field to shelf, capers are also more expensive depending on their size, with the smaller ones being more desirable. If you’re looking for the really good stuff then a nonpareil caper, these are the smallest ones sitting at 7mm in size. On the other hand the gruses grow up to 14mm in size and are the cheapest. In total there are six categories of capers to choose from, all divided by size.
Honestly though, unless you’re a complete foodie, you don’t need to break the bank to go for the most expensive option. Capes are generally used as a garnish to a dish and therefore you probably want to spend a bit more on the main event such as a good quality piece of fish or fresh pasta. No matter which you choose, it will add a salty, zesty flavour to your meal that’s sure to add the kick you’re missing.
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