Healthy capers are rarely used in the cuisine of Central and Northern Europe. In the Mediterranean, on the other hand, capers are served almost daily as an antipasto or spice. Besides being a delicious addition to Mediterranean cuisine, capers have also been valued as a medicinal product for thousands of years.
What are capers?
Most of us are familiar with pickled capers that you can find next to pickles on the supermarket shelf. But what it is really about – vegetables, seeds or fruits – is unknown to everyone.
Capers are the flower buds of various caper plants. They are put in vinegar, oil, or brine and represent spices, as the term “spice capers” indicates. About 10 species of caper bushes in the Mediterranean basin provide edible buds. The most famous caper species is the true or prickly caper bush (Capparis spinosa), which can be found both as a wild plant and as a cultivated plant.
If the flower buds are not picked, beautiful, delicate flowers bloom from them, a symbol of transience because they open in the morning and fade again at noon. Later, caper fruits also called caper apples, develop from it, which are now available in our supermarkets as well – they are also pickled in vinegar.
The caper bush is still considered a magical plant because it prefers to grow where the land is barren. Also, these plants like to spread on rocks, on the walls of ruins, or cultural monuments. They say that the caper bush feeds exclusively on wind and sun in Italy.
In northern Europe, capers are especially known as an ingredient Konigsberger Klopse, an East Prussian specialty made from meatballs with white sauce, capers, and potatoes. However, very few people know how to use capers differently. It is even less known that capers are extremely healthy.
Capers – an ancient remedy
Archaeological finds – e.g., in today’s Jordan – showed that capers were used thousands of years ago to flavor dishes. Both the famous Sumerian epic about Gilgamesh and the Egyptian papyri contain references to how many capers were valued as a spice and medicine in ancient times.
In addition to capers, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs used in medicine virtually all components of the caper bush – seeds, roots, bark, leaves, flowers, and fruits, to treat arthritis, hemorrhoids, liver, and spleen diseases. Also, the caper was used as an aphrodisiac in ancient times.
In southern Italy, caper bush bark tea is still popular today for rheumatism. It is also common to chew the bark to relieve toothache. Oil made from the root of the caper bush is used for infections in the oral cavity.
On the other hand, fresh buds are used to make an ointment for vitiligo, allergic dermatitis, and couperosis. In North Africa, Berbers use fresh buds as a youth source for the skin. They are used to make a paste with honey, which is effective against wrinkles and dry skin.
Capers can be pickled in vinegar, oil, or salt. The content of nutrients naturally depends on the method of canning. If you use oil, the fat and calorie content are correspondingly higher. For simplicity, we choose vinegar capers for information about their nutritional values. They consist of more than 80 percent water. 50 grams of vinegar capers has about 44 kcal and contains about:
2.4 g of protein
1 g of fat
5 g of carbohydrates
of which 0.4 g of sugar and 3.2 g of fiber
Capers: A spice rich in vitamins and minerals
As is usual with spices, capers are used in small quantities in the kitchen. So you would have to eat pounds of capers every day to cover your vital needs for substances.
However, capers contain many vitamins and minerals, some of which are even important in meeting the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Only 50 grams of capers contain:
- 60 µg of vitamin B1 (4 percent RDA): it is important for metabolism and the nervous system.
- 135 µg of vitamin B2 (8.5 percent RDA): is responsible for the body’s energy balance.
- 750 µg of vitamin B3 (4 percent RDA): Used in mental disorders such as depression.
- 365 mg of calcium (36 percent RDA): Ensures that the heart, kidneys, and lungs can function properly.
- 550 mg of potassium (25 percent RDA): is responsible for the fluid content in the body’s cells.
- 130 mg magnesium (40 percent RDA): Has an anti-inflammatory effect.
- 120 mg sodium (25 percent RDA): important for water balance.
- 3 mg of iron (23 percent RDA): Every cell in the body needs iron for its energy balance.
- 250 mg copper (16 percent RDA): Alzheimer’s disease may be associated with copper deficiency.
Also, carotenoids contain beta-carotene and many other antioxidants. We will briefly present some of them.
Capers: useful ingredients
There is no other food that contains more quercetin than capers. While 50 grams of onion contains about 16 milligrams of quercetin, capers have almost 100 milligrams.
Quercetin is a natural dye from the group of polyphenols and flavonoids with a strong antioxidant effect. Numerous studies have shown that quercetin prevents allergies, arteriosclerosis, eye diseases, and cancer and can lower cholesterol levels.
However, capers contain many other flavonoids that promote health. These include kaempferol, which has a positive effect on postmenopausal osteoporosis and leads to tumor cells’ death.
Rutin is also found in capers, a substance that helps against intestinal diseases, circulatory disorders, edema, inflammation, and arthritis, as well as varicose veins.
Even essential oils in capers have been studied. Relevant researchers have concluded that substances in capers may play an important role in preventing colon and stomach cancer.
Capers against bacteria, fungi and viruses
Just like mustard capers contain medicinal oils. They have been proven to work against fungi, bacteria, and viruses and are therefore a good way to prevent infections of all kinds.
Studies at the University of Jordan have shown that capers have a perfect antibacterial effect and are good against fungi such as Candida albicans (yeast) and Aspergillus flavus (mold).
Researchers from An-Najah National University have discovered that caper extract can completely stop two filamentous fungi’ growth (Microsporum canis and Trichophyton violaceum). These fungi can cause fungal skin infections (dermatophytosis) in humans and animals.
Scientists from the University of Alagappa in India have also proved that properly dosed caper extract can even eliminate antibiotic-resistant bacteria and that this plant can be a good alternative to antibiotics.
According to researchers from the University of Messina, even in the fight against the herpes virus, capers or their extract are reliable helpers.
Capers for allergies and autoimmune diseases
Capers could be interesting, especially for people who have allergies. An Italian study found that caper extract can significantly reduce an excessive immune reaction in allergies. With the extract’s help, allergic symptoms of hay fever could be reduced by 75 percent, and food allergy by over 90 percent.
For prevention, 300 mg of caper extract is recommended daily. It would help if you started therapy three weeks before the pollen season.
If symptoms are already present, you should take up to 7 capsules a day for a week. In this way, you can greatly alleviate the symptoms. If symptoms subside, the patient should take a basic dose of 300 mg of caper extract daily for 3 weeks. If necessary, you can increase the dosage again.
In autoimmune diseases – similar to allergies – there are excessive reactions of the immune system. Again, a caper could be helpful. A study at the Immunological and Pharmacological Unit in Fez / Markokko showed that caper extract could inhibit immune system side effects common in autoimmune diseases.
Capers are good for diabetics
In Iran, capers – not buds, but caper apples – have been used for a long time to lower blood sugar levels.
In the corresponding study from 2013. year, 54 respondents had type 2 diabetes, divided into two groups. One group received a capsule with 400 mg of caper fruit extract three times a day for two months. The other was a placebo.
Blood tests, which were determined at the beginning and end of the study, showed that caper fruit extract could drastically reduce blood sugar levels. No side effects were observed.
Let’s go back to real capers, pickled flower buds. How are they made, and how can they be ideally used in the kitchen?
Capers are put in vinegar, salt, or oil to keep them durable, edible, and tasty because fresh buds have a very bitter taste. The high price of a down payment is a consequence of a complex production process. This explains why the flower buds of other plants, e.g., nasturtium, are processed into so-called “fake capers.”
Capers are hand-picked early in the morning or evening and then rubbed on a cloth for a few hours. Since the buds do not form simultaneously, of course, you have to pick them again and again.
The capers are then placed in salt for about a month and mixed again. And last but not least, they must be washed and sorted, depending on their size, to be put back in salt, oil, or vinegar.
Capers: purchase, storage and preparation
When buying, make sure that the capers are completely closed and have an olive-blue-green color. The smaller the capers, the higher their quality and the choice also depends on the use. Once the jar is opened, it should be kept in the refrigerator. If stored properly, capers can be stored for about 1 year.
While capers pickled in vinegar should only be rinsed briefly under running water before use, it is recommended to soak salted capers in a water bath for about 20 minutes and change the water several times. If the capers are then finely chopped, they can develop a full aroma.
If you want to enjoy the effects that promote health fully, add capers to hot dishes at the very end because some ingredients and aromas evaporate very quickly due to the effects of heat.