Caper facts for kids

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Caper
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Capparaceae
Genus: Capparis
Species: C. spinosa
Binomial name
Capparis spinosa
Linnaeus, 1753

Capparis spinosa, the caper bush, also called Flinders rose, is a perennial plant that bears rounded, fleshy leaves and large white to pinkish-white flowers.

The plant is best known for the edible flower buds (capers), often used as a seasoning, and the fruit (caper berries), both of which are usually consumed pickled. Other species of Capparis are also picked along with C. spinosa for their buds or fruits. Other parts of Capparis plants are used in the manufacture of medicines and cosmetics.

Capparis spinosa is found in the wild in the Mediterranean, East Africa, Madagascar, South-Western and Central Asia, the Himalayas, the Pacific Islands, Indomalaya, and Australia. It is present in almost all the circum-Mediterranean countries, and is included in the flora of most of them, but whether it is indigenous to this region is uncertain. Although the flora of the Mediterranean region has considerable endemism, the caper bush could have originated in the tropics, and later been naturalized to the Mediterranean basin.

Culinary uses

Capers jar
Pickled capers in a jar

The salted and pickled caper bud (called simply a caper) is often used as a seasoning or garnish. Capers are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, especially Cypriot, Italian, Aeolian and Maltese. The mature fruit of the caper shrub are prepared similarly and marketed as caper berries.

The buds, when ready to pick, are a dark olive green and about the size of a fresh kernel of corn (Zea mays). They are picked, then pickled in salt, or a salt and vinegar solution, and drained. Intense flavor is developed as mustard oil (glucocapparin) is released from each caper bud. This enzymatic reaction leads to the formation of rutin, often seen as crystallized white spots on the surfaces of individual caper buds.

Capers are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially in Sicilian, Aeolian and southern Italian cooking. They are commonly used in salads, pasta salads, meat dishes, and pasta sauces. Examples of uses in Italian cuisine are chicken piccata and spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Capers are known for being one of the ingredients of tartar sauce. They are often served with cold smoked salmon or cured salmon dishes (especially lox and cream cheese). Capers and caper berries are sometimes substituted for olives to garnish a martini.

Capers are categorized and sold by their size, defined as follows, with the smallest sizes being the most desirable: non-pareil (up to 7 mm), surfines (7–8 mm), capucines (8–9 mm), capotes (9–11 mm), fines (11–13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm). If the caper bud is not picked, it flowers and produces a caper berry. The fruit can be pickled and then served as a Greek mezze.

Caper leaves, which are hard to find outside of Greece or Cyprus, are used particularly in salads and fish dishes. They are pickled or boiled and preserved in jars with brine—like caper buds.

Dried caper leaves are also used as a substitute for rennet in the manufacturing of high-quality cheese.

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Caper Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.