Suppression

Caper

Category: Food

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

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.

Distribution

Capparis spinosa is found in the wild in Mediterranean, East Africa, Madagascar, south-western and Central Asia, 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.

The economic importance of the caper plant has led to a significant increase in both the area under cultivation and production levels during the late 1980s. Intense daylight and a long growing period are necessary to secure high yields. The main production areas are in harsh environments found in Morocco, the southeastern Iberian Peninsula, Turkey, and the Italian islands of Pantelleria and Aeolian Islands, especially Salina. It is also hoped that introduction in semiarid lands may help to prevent the degradation and erosion that takes place in fragile ecosystems.

 Description

The caper bush is a many branched low growing shrubby plant.  It has thick and shiny, round to ovate, alternate leaves. As you can see from the pictures there is the berry called a caper berry and then the flower bud which is called a caper

Bud left, berry right

Flowers - The flowers are complete, sweetly fragrant, and showy, with four sepals and four white to pinkish-white petals, and many long violet-coloured stamens, and a single stigma usually rising well above the stamens.  The flowers have an extremely short life, opening in the morning and wilting by noon.

The flower buds, when ready to pick, are a dark olive green and about the size of a fresh kernel of corn (Zea mays). The flower bud – the caper  - can be salted and pickled. Capers are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, especially Cypriot, Italian, Aeolian and Maltese.

Berry - The mature fruit of the caper shrub  - the caper berries - are prepared similarly, that is pickled or salted and marketed as caper berries.  As you can see from the pictures, however, they are larger and full of small seeds.  Although the taste of the two – caper and caper berry - is not dissimilar, medicinally they are different.

 

The bush - The caper bush requires a semiarid or arid climate, and is adapted specifically for lack of water, high temperatures and poor soils. It can tolerate silty clay and sandy, rocky, or gravelly surface soils, with less than 1% organic matter.

It grows on bare rocks, crevices, cracks, and sand dunes in Pakistan, in dry calcareous escarpments of the Adriatic region, in dry coastal ecosystems of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, in transitional zones between the littoral salt marsh and the coastal deserts of the Asian Red Sea coast, in the rocky arid bottoms of the Jordan valley, in calcareous sandstone cliffs at Ramat Aviv, Israel, and in central west and northwest coastal dunes of Australia.

It grows spontaneously in wall joints of antique Roman fortresses, on the Western Wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, and on the ramparts of the castle of Santa Bárbara (Alicante, Spain). Clinging caper plants are dominant on the medieval limestone-made ramparts of Alcudia and the bastions of Palma (Majorca, Spain). This aggressive pioneering has brought about serious problems for the protection of monuments.

commercial caper bushes in Pantelleria

The shrub has a high root/shoot ratio and the presence of mycorrhizae serves to maximize the uptake of minerals in poor soils. Different nitrogen-fixing bacterial strains have also been isolated from the caper bush rhizosphere.

The caper bush can withstand temperatures over 40 °C in summer, but it is sensitive to frost during its vegetative period. A caper bush is able to survive low temperatures in the form of stump, as happens in the foothills of the Alps. Caper plants are even found 3,500 m above sea level in Ladakh, though they are usually grown at lower altitudes. Some Italian and Argentine plantings can withstand strong winds without problems, due to the caper bush’s ‘decumbent architecture and the coriaceous consistency of the leaves in some populations’.

Types of caper

 

Capers are classified by the processing they have undergone and their size. The caper, remember, is the unopened flower bud. Very early in the day, the unopened buds are picked by hand. They're allowed to wilt for a day or two, then are graded for size:

  • 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).
Hand grading

After grading, capers are immediately brined in vinegar, or dry-packed in salt, so they need to be rinsed before use. The taste is fresh, salty, pungent, and slightly flowery-lemony.

 According to Wikipedia “ Intense flavour 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”.

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.

 

 Medicinal uses and nutrients

The caper plant as a whole has a very long history of use in traditional medicine.  The caper was used in ancient Greece as a carminative and Athenaeus in Deipnosophistae, Pliny (NH XIX, XLVIII.163) and Theophrastus all mentioned it.  Dioscorides provided instructions on the use of sprouts, roots, leaves and seeds in the treatment of strangury and inflammation.  In Greek popular medicine, a herbal tea made of caper root and young shoots is considered beneficial against rheumatism. 

But in China it appears that it was used as a medicine around 3000 years ago:

Seed clumps of Capparis spinosa L. together with shoots, leaves and fruits of Cannabis sativa L. were unearthed in the Yanghai Tombs, Turpan District in Xinjiang, China. This is the first time that plant remains of Capparis spinosa have been discovered in China and the eastern part of Central Asia. Based on the joint occurrence of Capparis spinosa and Cannabis sativa, and the pharmacological value of the seeds of Capparis spinosa, it is deduced that caper was utilized for medicinal purposes.  PMID:  17693045

 

There are a lot of observations we were able to provide for capers from current published research [see below], showing that traditional uses can be supported by research results.  Diabetes, various forms of cancer, rheumatism and other inflammatory bone diseases all appear to benefit from this plant.  It should be noted that many of these activities are not provided by the caper – the flower bud, but by the berry, and often it is the seeds in the berry that provide the medicinal value. 

Dr Duke’s analysis, found in the observations, should be examined to show all the activities.

USDA Nutrients database - Full Report (All Nutrients):  02054, Capers, canned

Food Group: Spices and Herbs Scientific Name:  Capparis spinosa

 

Nutrient

unit

Value per 100g

Protein

g

2.36

Total lipid (fat)

g

0.86

Fiber, total dietary

g

3.2

Sugars, total

g

0.41

MINERALS

 

 

Calcium, Ca

mg

40

Iron, Fe

mg

1.67

Magnesium, Mg

mg

33

Phosphorus, P

mg

10

Potassium, K

mg

40

Sodium, Na

mg

2348

Zinc, Zn

mg

0.32

Copper, Cu

mg

0.374

Manganese, Mn

mg

0.078

Selenium, Se

µg

1.2

VITAMINS

 

 

Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid

mg

4.3

Thiamin

mg

0.018

Riboflavin

mg

0.139

Niacin

mg

0.652

Pantothenic acid

mg

0.027

Vitamin B-6

mg

0.023

Folate, total

µg

23

Folic acid

µg

0

Choline, total

mg

6.5

Vitamin B-12

µg

0.00

Vitamin A, RAE 1

µg

7

Retinol

µg

0

Carotene, beta 1

µg

83

Carotene, alpha 1

µg

0

Cryptoxanthin, beta 1

µg

0

Vitamin A, IU 1

IU

138

Lycopene

µg

0

Lutein + zeaxanthin

µg

0

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)

mg

0.88

Vitamin D (D2 + D3)

µg

0.0

Vitamin D

IU

0

Vitamin K (phylloquinone)

µg

24.6

FATTY ACIDS

 

 

Fatty acids, total saturated

g

0.233

Fatty acids, total monounsaturated

g

0.063

Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated

g

0.304


 

1 Nutrient Data Laboratory, ARS, USDA Nutrient content of ethnic and geographic specific foods, Southern Testing and Research Laboratories , 1995  Beltsville MD

2 Giuffrida, D., Salvo, F., Ziino, M., Toscano, G., and Dugo, G. Initial investigation on some chemical constituents of capers (Capparis Spinosa L.) from the island of Salina., 2002 Ital. J. Food Sci. 14 1   pp.25-33

3 Inocencio, C., Rivera, D., Alcaraz, F., and Tomás-Barberán, F. A. Flavonoid content of commercial capers (Capparis spinosa, C. sicula and C. orientalis) produced in Mediterranean countries. , 2000 Eur. Food Res. Technol 212   pp.70-74

 

 

Method

Capers can be used in salads, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and pasta sauces. They form the basis of tartar sauce:

 

200ml/7fl oz mayonnaise.
3 tbsp capers, drained and chopped.
3 tbsp gherkins, drained and chopped.
1 spring onion, finely chopped.
squeeze of lemon juice.
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley.
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

 

To the basic recipe above can be added cream and hard boiled chopped egg and this sauce goes with numerous fish, as well as being a very tasty topping on open sandwiches or crusty bread.  Capers are also a key ingredient in home-made tapenade:

 

1 garlic clove, crushed
1 lemon, juice only
3 tbsp capers, chopped
6 anchovy fillets, chopped
250g/9oz black olives, pitted and finely chopped
small bunch fresh parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to bind

 

 

The caper berry and the caper are well known, the leaves less well known, but possibly the least known is that the seeds are able to produce a nutritious oil, which given the medicinal value of the berry and seeds is of great interest

Caper seeds are a natural source of vegetable oils that are beneficial in terms of health, oil stability and resistance to oxidation.  PMID:  25483130

Poached leg of mutton with caper sauce

This was my father’s favourite meal.  The melting texture of the slowly poached mutton marries perfectly with the aromatic capers in the sauce. For this dish, you will need a deep flameproof casserole. 
The meat used is traditionally mutton, but the meat of Herdwick sheep [available in the UK via FarmerSharp], is also delicious as are lamb shanks.  The cut does not matter but it must be ON THE BONE.  To serve, carve the meat into thick slices, dress with the sauce, add the casserole vegetables and some freshly cooked vegetables eg peas, beans or cabbage.

2.5kg joint[s] of lamb/mutton
6 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 onions, peeled and sliced
4 peeled thickly sliced potatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 litres lamb or chicken stock

Salt

For the sauce:
1 level tablespoon cornflour or potato flour
2 tbsp capers, drained
¼ lb plus of  butter
1 tblspoons malt vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

 

Fry the onions in dripping in the casserole until soft.

Add vegetables. 

Add mutton/lamb, then pour in stock until covered.

Add all herbs and spices.

Add sea salt to taste.

Place in slow cooker of Aga or in the oven at a medium/low setting and leave to cook slowly for 2 to 3 hours.

Once cooked leave meat and vegetables to rest in the stock, but take out 2 large ladles of the stock and boil in a pan until reduced slightly.

Dissolve cornflour in a little water until smooth then add to pan stirring all the time to ensure it is not lumpy.  It should be of a sauce consistency, but not thick.

Add capers, then add butter to give the sauce a gloss, more butter can be used if liked.  This sauce benefits from more butter than we have given, but this is your choice.

Add vinegar, add sugar.  Serve as above.

 

 Chicken or fish with caper lemon sauce

Both grilled chicken breasts[skin on] and grilled fish such as salmon or trout fillets go well with this sauce. 

2 large lemons

1 tablespoons olive oil

¼ to ½ lb butter [to taste]

2 banana shallots, finely chopped

2 tablespoons capers, drained

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

 

Zest one lemon, then squeeze both lemons for the juice. 

Gently heat olive oil in a pan.  Fry shallot until transparent.

Add butter to the same pan and melt very slowly on a low heat.

Once butter is melted add lemon rind and capers.  Add lemon juice to taste.  If you like a very buttery sauce then less lemon juice is needed, a sharp sauce might require the juice from both lemons.

Just before serving add parsley.  Pour over the fish or chicken

Caper cucumber cress and mayonnaise with cream sauce

 The recipe does not include any instructions for how to grill your chicken or fish, it only describes the sauce.  The dish goes well with couscous, spaghetti or angel hair pasta.  Serve with sautéed spinach, kale or swiss chard on the side.

This basic sauce can be adapted in a great numbers of ways to ring the changes on this dish, still using the grilled chicken or fish.  The shallots can be replaced by garlic.  Chopped green olives or whole green olives can be added to the sauce along with a thinly sliced butter fried lemon.

Chicken marbella

This serves 8-10 people.  It can be made ahead (a couple of days) and it is said that ‘this dish improves with age!’  It is also best served at room temperature, which means it is a good recipe to use for outdoor picnics, parties and buffet lunches.

12 boneless chicken breast halves, cubed
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper   
1/2 cup red wine vinegar   
1/2 cup olive oil   
1 cup pitted prunes   
1/2 cup pitted green olives with pimiento (small size, or chop larger ones)
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice   
6 bay leaves
1 cup light brown sugar   
1 cup white wine   
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

 

In a large glass bowl combine the chicken, garlic, oregano, pepper, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives, capers, and bay leaves.

Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange chicken in a single layer in shallow baking pan, and spoon marinade over it.

Sprinkle with the brown sugar and pour in white wine.

Bake 35-40 minutes, uncovered, basting frequently with pan juices.

Place in a serving bowl, sprinkle with parsley.

 

 

 Cherry tomato & caper spaghetti

Very simple and very tasty

200g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil 

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 red or green chilli  , deseeded and finely chopped

200g pack cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tsp capers  , roughly chopped

grated Parmesan  , to serve (optional)

 

Boil the spaghetti. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the garlic and fry, stirring all the time, until golden. Add the chilli, tomatoes and capers and fry for a further 3-4 mins until the tomatoes start to break down.

Add 2 tbsp of the pasta cooking water to the tomatoes, then drain the pasta and return to the pan. Pour in the tomato sauce and toss everything together well. Serve as it is or sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan.

 

 Jamie Oliver’s Salsa Verdi [Green sauce]

Some recipes for Salsa Verdi use breadcrumbs to make a thicker sauce and this is an option with this recipe too.  It can be used on any plainly grilled meat or fish, but goes well with veal, pork and chicken.  A food processor can be used and pulse chop for a smoother consistency.

1½-2 cloves garlic , peeled

1 small handful capers

1 small handful gherkins pickled in sweet vinegar

6 anchovy fillets

2 large handfuls flat-leaf parsley , leaves picked

1 bunch fresh basil , leaves picked

1 handful fresh mint , leaves picked

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

8 tablespoons really good extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

Finely chop the garlic, capers, gherkins, anchovies and herbs and put them into a bowl.

 

Add the mustard and vinegar, then slowly stir in the olive oil until you achieve the right consistency.

 

Balance the flavours with freshly ground black pepper, a bit of salt and maybe a little more vinegar.

 

 Leg of Lamb with Mint Gremolata

The leg of lamb is covered with crushed garlic and salt, roasted in the oven and then served with this sauce.  It can be served as a lunch dish with salad, or as a main meal with, for example roasted vegetables [the vegetables can be roasted round the meat]

¼ cup of olive oil

⅓ cup finely chopped mint leaves

⅓ cup of finely chopped italian parsley

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon finely chopped capers

2 spring onions finely chopped

salt if necessary

 

The ingredients are simply combined. 

The resulting sauce should be thick not runny.

 

Another option is to pulse chop the herbs, capers and spring onions and then add the oil and lemon to the processor.

 

 

References and further reading

  •  
    J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Sep 25;113(3):409-20. Epub 2007 Jul 4.  The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai Tombs (2800 years b.p.), NW China, and its medicinal implications.  Jiang HE1, Li X, Ferguson DK, Wang YF, Liu CJ, Li CS.  1State Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, No. 20 Lin xin cun, Xiangshan, Beijing 100093, China.
  • J Sci Food Agric. 2015 Nov;95(14):2965-72. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.7040. Epub 2015 Jan 5.  Physicochemical properties of caper species seed oils collected from two different harvest years. Duman E1, Özcan MM2.

 

 

 

 

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