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Capers are spices. Capers are the small, unopened flower buds of the caper bush that have been preserved in vinegar brine, preserving via the acetic acid and salt.

The fresh caper bud is unpleasant, yet the preserved caper buds have a sharp acidic and salty taste with a goaty urea-like aroma, which is weirdly refreshing. Many are now then washed in fresh water or wine, so reducing the saltiness and increasing the caper-like flavour; these are more enjoyable than those still in vinegar. The key is to only eat them immediately out of the preserving liquid - if you leave them out for too long, they can taste quite horrible, more goat than desirable, so add at the end of cooking rather than the outset, or leave on the table to add into salads.

Capers are essential for tartare sauce, and they complement tomatoes, working well in tomato sauces and salads. Developing the theme of tartare sauce, capers are good with salt cod and smoked fish, for example eel, herrings and smoked salmon.

Also, capers offset fatty foods well, especially those with cheese from pizzas through to flavouring Liptauer cheese.

The best pickled capers are those from France: Nonpareilles (small and delicate; 3 mm diameter), followed by Surfines, Fines, Mifines and Capucines. The lowest grade - Capucines - is the largest bud while Nonpareilles are the smallest, youngest and most desirable.

When opened, capers should be stored in the fridge and don't let them dry out.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.