Monday, February 1, 2016


I like my food plain and not particularly seasoned. I don’t like mixing too many spices or herbs. Salt and pepper will do just fine most of the time. With certain vegetables I like parsley and with others I like dill weed. Some dishes might call for a little bit of oregano. I don’t care for most other herbs so much. I feel that they overpower the taste of the actual meal. I’ve only recently begun to enjoy capers with smoked salmon. I thought that there could be no need to have capers with any food I was having. I didn’t know what capers were either.

When I was a child I remember going to a laid-back al fresco restaurant with my parents. The evenings were warm under the stars. The adult conversation was calming. I chose to get up from the table and explore the shrubby boundaries of the spot. One interesting shrub that impressed me with its flowers later prevailed among the memories of those evenings.

I now know that it was the caper bush. Capers are the unopened flower buds of the caper bush, Capparis spinosa in the family Capparaceae.

                            Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1840-1925) - Flora von Deutschland Österreich und der Schweiz

The caper bush, C. spinosa, grows all around the Mediterranean. Some also grow in Asia and in Australia. This sprawling, perennial, evergreen shrub typically grows to a meter wide. It is a rupicolous species which means it grows in dry and hostile conditions including sandy or gravelly soils, rocky hillsides, cliffs, stone walls and rock crevices. It is thought that the caper bush may have originated in the tropics, and later been naturalized to the Mediterranean basin.


The plant has rounded, fleshy leaves and large white to pinkish-white flowers with purple stamens, the pollen producing reproductive organ of a flower, usually consisting of filaments.


Flowers only last one day, but bloom profusely from May to early autumn. Flower buds are picked prior to opening when still tight, washed in salt water to remove grit and pickled in brine, vinegar or wine. Buds are often picked daily by hand and they are categorized by their size. The youngest smaller buds have the best quality.

The leaf stipules, often leaflike appendages at the base of a leafstalk, develop into a pair of sharp hooked little spines on this plant. Hands are easily scratched when harvesting capers and clothing may catch on the hooked spines.

“The economic importance of the caper plant led to a significant increase in both the area under cultivation and production levels during the late 1980s. 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. In Australia, capers are grown in both Western and South Australia such as on the dry rocky slopes above the Murray River with no extra irrigation. In the USA, caper bush thrives in coastal California, and they’re grown successfully in South Africa and New Zealand as well.” (

The flower buds not picked bloom and produce caper berries, the fruit of the shrub. The oblong, multi-seeded caper berries are edible also. The caper berries are used as a seasoning in pickled form just as the capers. They are larger than capers and they are sold with the stems still attached.

caper berry
The leaves of the caper bush are edible too. They can be used as salad greens.

Capers are often served with cold smoked salmon. Culinary use of capers extends back in history for thousands of years. They are said to be mentioned as a food in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh which dates back to before 2000 B.C.



  1. Oh! I had no idea! For some reason, maybe because of the brine they come in, I'd assumed that capers were akin to caviar. I had no idea they were a plant. I'll pay more attention to their flavour next time I have a chance to eat some...

    1. I know... I was just as surprised to discover that capers were the buds of a shrub I already knew. Also, who would have thought that buds could be eaten.

  2. Hi Beste - I love capers and often have them with some smoked fish, or tuna as in tuna salad ... they add a certain piquancy to the dish ... cheers Hilary

  3. They are so new for me, I can't say that I truly enjoy them yet Hilary.