The humble caper, that small, green, speckled bead that we see so often adds a salty tartness to so many different kinds of dishes.
But what exactly is a caper? And what is the difference between the small round ones and the larger, balloon-shaped ones that carry a long stem?
A caper, as we know it, is actually a flower bud grown from the capperis spinosa plant that has been picked before it has been allowed to open.
Caper berries, however, – with their oblong shape and long stems – are the fruit of the caper plant that is yielded after the bud is allowed to flower and the flower falls off.
While the caper and the caper berry taste similar, capers tend to have a more intense flavour.
Capers flourish in hot, dry climates and are grown all over the world: in the Mediterranean, Asia, North Africa, Turkey and Australia.
The best capers are said to come from a tiny, volcanic island off of Sicily named Pantelleria (from the Arab Bint – al Rion, meaning ‘daughter of the wind’ due to the strong winds that sweep through the land).
This island is south west of Sicily and is very close to Tunisia, benefitting from the sun and dry climate.
Capers are delicate and must be hand-harvested, which in why they can be expensive. Once picked, they are cured with either coarse salt, brine or salt and vinegar.
Dry, salt cured capers are more difficult to make as it is necessary to constantly turn them to ensure that each caper is sufficiently cured, while capers in liquid can be left to cure without further interference.
Capers can be used in a variety of dishes from sauces to be sidled over fish and chicken, to salads, to pastas (such as the famous Putanesca pasta) to stews and caponata.
Now you know a little more about the humble caper.