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Botanical name: Capparis spinosa



The caper bush is native over a wide area of the Mediterranean. It requires mild temperatures even in winter. Spain, Italy, France, Morocco and Algeria are countries that export capers in large amounts today.


In addition, California and states of the former Soviet Union belong to the chief growing areas.



Capers are harvested from the end of May until September. They are available all year round, preserved in oil or vinegar and salt. They are sold in Germany in almost every supermarket.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The thorny caper bush reaches a height of up to 1 m; it has round green leaves and young branches with a reddish tinge. It bears large white or pink blossoms from which cucumber- or plum-like fruits develop.


It is the still-closed buds of the bush that are harvested: the capers. They are somewhat flattened, irregularly ovoid, and 5-15 cm large. They are olive or blue-green with light spots and are picked before sunrise daily during the harvest period. Then they are washed, partly shrivelled, sorted according to size and preserved in vinegar and salt.


Capers have a slightly sharp, spicy and somewhat bitter taste. Pickling gives them a sour-salty flavour. They smell aromatic and a little pungent.



Capers are sulphurous and also contain essential oil, terpenes and glucosinolates. One of the main components of the oil is linalool. Capers get their sharp taste from a mustard-oil glycoside that they also contain.


Flavonoids are among the secondary plant substances found in capers; chief among them is 0.5% rutin, which crystallizes and is visible as small light dots on the buds.


Harmful substances

The mustard oils in capers can be irritating to the skin and mucous membranes. Therefore, gastrointestinal problems may arise following the consumption of large amounts of capers. The normal amount used to season food is not a problem, however.


For persons with kidney problems, eating capers may lead to irritation of the kidneys.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Good-quality capers should have closed and undamaged buds. They should not be soft, and their skin should be dark olive-green.


Capers are sorted and sold according to size. There are six different categories. The smaller they are, the higher their quality. The smallest capers are called 'nonpareilles' and are the most in demand. Somewhat larger capers are called 'surfines', followed by 'capucines', 'capotes', and 'fines' and 'hors calibres', which are the largest.


Capers will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 years as long as they are covered by the briny fluid. This should not be replenished or renewed, however.


Presumed effect on health

The sharp taste of capers works as an appetizer and a digestive stimulant. The polyterpenes they contain are presumed to have an anti-inflammatory effect.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Capers are predominantly pickled or preserved in salt water, vinegar or oil and sold sealed in jars or small tubes. A rare variation is buds preserved in dry salt.


They are especially good for seasoning meat and fish dishes. The best-known dish with capers in Germany is 'Königsberger Klopse' with chicken fricassee. Capers are also good with lamb, poultry and rabbit.


In Sicily it is popular to prepare fish with capers and green olives, and in Spain fried fish is combined with capers, garlic, parsley and almonds.


Capers are also used to enhance piquant sauces and remoulades. These are served preferably with fish dishes and cold meat. In England caper sauce is traditionally eaten with mutton.

Capers are tasty with tomatoes, aubergines / eggplant, artichokes, olives, green beans and potatoes. They are also delicious in many salads, e.g. egg salad, rice salad, tuna fish salad, herring salad, sausage salad and cheese salad.


Prior to use capers should be rinsed to remove the brine. They should not be added until the food is cooked, because when they are cooked too long they may become bitter.


Seasoning tip

Capers go well with dill, oregano, pepper, parsley, basil, and tarragon. They also combine well with garlic, onions, horseradish, celeriac, mustard and lemon.





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