What Is a Caper?

A caper is the unopened flower bud of the prickly caper plant Capparis spinosa. It looks a bit like a dark green pea and is native to the Mediterranean region, where it is used widely. Capers are prized for the flavor they add to dishes such as Mediterranean Braised Chard and Pan-roasted Halibut with Caper Vinaigrette.

Capers are harvested by hand and then cured in brine, vinegar, wine, or salt. Stephen Facciola, author of Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants, says raw capers are pretty flavorless. “It’s the pickling process that brings out a caper’s sharp and tangy lemony flavor,” says Facciola.

If the caper flower bud blooms before it is harvested, the flower’s fruit—called the caperberry—is picked instead. Caperberries are larger and filled with seeds, says Susanna Hoffman, author of The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking. Caperberries are also pickled but are served as a garnish or a snack, like olives.

Chowhounds have many ideas about how to cook with capers.

CHOW’s Nagging Question column appears every Friday.

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