Have you ever spotted small, dark green balls in your food and wondered what they are? If so, you may have encountered a caper. These small, pungent buds are commonly used as a condiment or seasoning in many cuisines around the world. But what exactly are capers, and why are they so popular? Let’s dig in and learn everything you need to know about these tiny but mighty ingredients.
History of Capers
The caper plant, scientifically known as Capparis Spinosa, is native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. It has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks and Romans used capers for medicinal purposes, believing that they could cure various ailments. The caper plant was also mentioned in the Bible, where it was referred to as the “hyssop,” a plant used for ritual purification.
Later on, capers became a popular seasoning in many Mediterranean dishes. They were introduced to other parts of the world through trading and eventually made their way into various cuisines, including Italian, French, Spanish, and Middle Eastern. Today, capers are widely available in supermarkets and are a staple in many kitchens across the globe.
When Are Capers Harvested?
The caper plant typically blooms from late May to early June. During this time, the buds are ready to be picked, typically in the morning when they are still closed. This is to ensure that they are at their freshest and most flavorful. Capers can be harvested by hand, but they are usually picked with the help of a small rake or mechanical devices. After harvesting, they are then pickled or packed in salt to preserve their taste and shelf life.
The Importance of Capers
Capers may be tiny, but they pack a powerful punch in terms of flavor. They have a distinct salty and slightly tangy taste due to their high levels of salt and vinegar. They are used in various dishes to add depth and a bit of tartness. Aside from their culinary uses, capers also have several health benefits. They are a good source of antioxidants and minerals, such as iron and calcium. They are also believed to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Celebration of Capers
In Sicily, the birthplace of the delicious capers, there is an annual festival called the “Capers Feast” which celebrates the harvesting of this prized ingredient. The festival usually takes place in June, where locals and tourists gather to enjoy a variety of dishes made with capers. It’s a colorful and lively event where visitors can also learn more about the history and production of capers.
Facts About Capers
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some interesting facts about capers that you may not know:
- Capers have different sizes and grades, depending on where they are grown. The smallest size, called “non-pareil,” is the most prized and sought after.
- The caper plant can grow up to six feet tall and has large, beautiful white or pink flowers.
- Capers are often confused with green peppercorns, but they are two different ingredients. Peppercorns come from the piper plant, while capers come from the caper plant.
- Aside from being pickled, capers can also be used fresh in salads or cooked in sauces.
- Capers are an essential ingredient in the famous Italian dish, Chicken Piccata.
Capers may be small, but they certainly make a big impact in many dishes. With their unique flavor and numerous health benefits, it’s no wonder they have been cherished for centuries and continue to be a beloved ingredient in today’s cuisine. So next time you come across these tiny green gems, you’ll know that they are capers and all the reasons why they are such a cherished ingredient in the culinary world.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Are capers only used in Mediterranean cuisine?
A: No, capers are used in various cuisines around the world, including Italian, French, Spanish, and Middle Eastern.
Q: Can I grow my own caper plant?
A: Yes, you can! But keep in mind that the caper plant requires a warm climate and plenty of sunlight.
Q: Are there any substitutes for capers?
A: If you don’t have capers on hand, you can use green olives, pickled green peppercorns, or chopped gherkins as substitutes in some recipes.
Q: Can capers go bad?
A: Yes, if not stored properly, the pickled capers can develop mold or lose their flavor. Make sure to refrigerate them after opening and use them within a year.
Q: Can I use capers in sweet dishes?
A: While capers are often used in savory dishes, they can also be incorporated into sweet dishes, such as lemon and caper ice cream or caper and raspberry jam.