How to Store Capers

Capers, those small, tangy buds often found nestled in jars or bottles, are cherished for their distinctive burst of flavor in a variety of dishes.

Storing capers correctly ensures that their unique taste is preserved and that they remain safe to consume.

When you bring capers home from the market, remember their shelf life can be quite long due to their typical packaging in vinegar or brine. The acidic environment inhibits bacterial growth, which helps them last longer.

Capers stored in a glass jar on a kitchen shelf, labeled and sealed tightly to preserve their flavor and freshness

Once you’ve opened a jar of capers, it’s crucial to maintain their freshness.

Transferring them to a clean, airtight container is an effective way to extend their life beyond the best before date.

Make sure the capers remain fully submerged in their original brine or a mixture of brine and olive oil to keep them from spoiling.

Refrigeration is key in this process, as it slows down potential degradation and maintains the capers’ flavor and texture.

If you find yourself with an abundance of capers or wish to store them for an extended period, freezing is a viable option.

However, for most culinary applications and regular use, keeping them refrigerated in an airtight container will serve well.

Proper storage not only ensures safety but also preserves the capers’ briny bite, ready to enhance sauces, salads, or sandwiches whenever you wish.

Understanding Capers

A jar of capers sits on a kitchen shelf next to other spices and condiments, with a label indicating how to store them

In this section, you will explore the varieties of capers, their unique taste and characteristics, as well as gain insight into their historical significance and botany.

Caper Varieties

Capers are categorized based on their size, and the most common types you will encounter include:

  • Nonpareil Capers: The smallest and most desirable variety, often considered the finest.
  • Surfines: Slightly larger than nonpareil, they’re still small and of high quality.
  • Capucines: Larger than surfines and valued for their unique flavor.
  • Capotes: Larger still, with a bolder taste and texture.
  • Grusas: One of the largest sizes available, used less frequently in recipes.

Caper Characteristics

When considering the physical and taste characteristics of capers, note the following:

  • Flavor: Capers impart a tangy, lemony, and slightly olive-like flavor that can bring a salty and briny note to dishes.
  • Texture: They typically have a firm texture, providing a bit of a bite in various dishes.
  • Appearance: Capers are generally green and can range from the size of a pea to that of a small olive.

Historical and Botanical Overview

Capers (Capparis spinosa) are a staple in Mediterranean cuisine and have been for centuries due to their distinctive flavor.

They come from a bush known as the caper bush or caper plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region.

The capers you use in cooking are actually the unripened flower buds of this plant. After the buds are harvested, they are dried and then preserved, typically in salt brine or vinegar.

In addition to the buds, the fruit of the caper plant, known as caperberries, are also consumed, primarily as a pickled garnish.

Storing Capers

To ensure capers maintain their flavor and are safe to consume, proper storage techniques are essential. By adhering to effective storage methods, you can maximize both their shelf life and quality.

Short-Term Storage

When you’ve opened a jar of capers, keeping them in the brine they were packaged in is crucial for short-term storage.

Ensure the capers remain submerged in vinegar or salty solution to prevent spoilage.

Refrigeration is the recommended storage option to maintain quality.

After use, always seal the capers with a tight-fitting lid and place them in a cool and dark section of your fridge.

  • To Do:
    • Keep capers submerged in brine.
    • Seal with tight lid.
    • Store in a cool, dark area of the fridge.

Long-Term Preservation

If you need to store capers for extended periods, refrigeration remains the best choice.

However, for much longer storage, freezing capers is a possible, though less common, method.

To freeze, spread them on a baking sheet to freeze individually and then transfer into an airtight container or a freezer bag.

This will prevent capers from clumping together, making it easy to use only what you need later.

  • To Do:
    • Freeze capers on a baking sheet.
    • Transfer to airtight container or freezer bag.
    • Use frozen capers directly in cooking without thawing.

Preventing Spoilage

Capers are prone to spoilage from air, mold, or temperature fluctuations when not stored correctly.

Always store the capers away from direct sunlight and in a stable temperature.

If capers show signs of mold, have a strong off-odor, or discoloration, they should be discarded.

  • To Do:
    • Protect from air by keeping the container sealed.
    • Check periodically for signs of spoilage like mold or off-odors.
    • Discard if capers appear wilted, discolored, or have a strong odor.

Culinary Uses of Capers

Capers in a glass jar on a kitchen shelf, surrounded by fresh herbs and spices. A label with "Capers" written in elegant script

Capers bring a distinctive briny, slightly bitter flavor to numerous dishes, acting as both a seasoning and garnish. They excel in adding depth to sauces, salads, and proteins.

Incorporating Capers in Cooking

When cooking with capers, it’s important to balance their intense flavor.

They often require rinsing to reduce their saltiness, especially if you’re using them in delicate dishes.

Capers can be chopped finely or used whole, depending on the texture you want to achieve.

Incorporating capers into pasta dishes and sauces is an excellent way to impart a piquant taste.

Chicken Piccata, a classic preparation, showcases capers’ affinity for complementing meat with a citrusy sauce.

Flavor Pairings and Enhancements

Capers have a unique affinity for certain ingredients that enhance their flavor:

  • Lemon juice: Brightens the caper’s briny flavor, perfect for seafood dishes.
  • Olive oil: Mellows the bitterness; commonly used in dressings for salads.
  • Garlic: Adds depth to caper-infused sauces and pasta.
  • Chicken: Benefits from capers’ tanginess, especially in sautéed dishes.
  • Seafood: The briny nature of capers complements the freshness of fish.

Pairings to consider:

  • Vinegar or pickles: Provide a similar acidity that echoes the capers’ own tartness.
  • Olives: Offer a different but harmonious briny note in dishes like pizza or charcuterie.

Specialty Dishes Featuring Capers

Capers are pivotal in certain specialty dishes across various cuisines:

  • Salad: Use capers as a garnish for added texture and zest.
  • Pasta sauces: Incorporate into creamy or tomato-based sauces for a flavor kick.
  • Chicken: Elevate simple chicken meals with a sprinkle of capers.
  • Seafood: Scatter over grilled or baked fish to enhance the oceanic taste.
  • Pizza: Add as a topping for a savory punch.
  • Bloody Marys: Include caperberries for a gourmet twist on this classic cocktail.

Selecting and Buying Capers

A hand reaches for a jar of capers on a grocery store shelf. Another hand holds a jar of capers, reading the label for storage instructions

When choosing capers, you should consider their size and quality as these factors impact their taste and use in dishes. Availability can vary, so know where to look in the grocery store and what to pay attention to when purchasing online.

Caper Size and Quality

Capers come in a variety of sizes, often labeled as nonpareils, surfines, capucines, capotes, and fines.

The smallest type, nonpareils, are prized for their superior texture and flavor. Large capers may be meatier but can carry a more pronounced briny taste.

Look for capers stored in brine or vinegar within a glass jar to ensure freshness.

Avoid those that appear wilted or discolored, and ensure the capers are covered in their liquid to prevent spoilage.

Finding Capers in the Grocery Store

In a grocery store, capers are typically found in the same aisle as olives and pickles or in the condiment section. They are usually packaged in small glass jars or bottles, either packed in a salty brine or vinegar solution.

You might also encounter capers packed in salt or oiled, which imparts a different flavor profile.

Online Purchase Considerations

When purchasing capers online, check the description for the type of caper (size and quality), the preserving liquid (brine or vinegar), and the container size.

Reputable sellers should clearly state the product’s expiration date and storage advice.

Ensure that the site has good customer reviews and a fair return policy in case the capers aren’t up to standard upon delivery.

When buying in bulk, consider how quickly you’ll use them to avoid wastage.

Post-Purchase Procedures

Capers stored in a sealed glass jar on a shelf in a cool, dark pantry. Label with purchase date and use within 1 year

After purchasing capers, ensure their longevity and flavor by following specific preparation and storage steps. These procedures help maintain the capers’ distinct lemony and pungent taste, ready to enhance your recipes.

Rinsing and Preparation

Before using your capers, it’s crucial to rinse them thoroughly under cold water. This step removes any excess salt or brine they may have been preserved in.

  • Fresh Capers:
    • Rinse under cold water
    • Pat dry with a paper towel
  • Capers in Brine or Salt:
    • Drain the liquid
    • Rinse to remove extra saltiness

Integrating Capers into Recipes

Capers can be incorporated into an array of dishes, adding a burst of acidity and flavor.

When adding capers to your recipes, consider their powerful taste and size.

  1. Chopping: For a more subtle flavor or to distribute them evenly, capers can be chopped before adding them to dishes.
  2. Substitutes: Replace capers with chopped green olives or a dash of lemon juice if unavailable.
  3. Complimentary Flavors: Capers work well with lemony sauces, wine reductions, and in dishes with extra virgin olive oil.

Storage After Opening

Once opened, it’s important to store capers correctly to preserve their quality.

Keep them in an airtight container with a lid and store in the refrigerator.

ConditionStorage Suggestion
Unopened Jar of CapersStore in a cool, dark place such as a pantry.
Opened Jar with Brine/VinegarKeep in the refrigerator; ensure capers are submerged to prevent spoilage.
Rinsed or Salted CapersTransfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Health and Nutritional Information

A jar of capers sits on a shelf next to other condiments. A label displays health and nutritional information. Text below provides instructions on how to store the capers

When considering capers as a part of your diet, it is important to understand their nutritional value and health benefits, as well as factors that may affect consumption.

Dietary Benefits of Capers

Capers are a flavorful ingredient with substantial health benefits.

They are low in calories, making them an excellent addition if you are monitoring your calorie intake.

While providing minimal fat and carbohydrates, capers are a surprisingly good source of copper and vitamin K, which are both essential for your overall health.

Here’s a breakdown of the typical nutritional content in a quarter-cup serving of capers:

  • Calories: Less than 10
  • Fat: Less than 1g.
  • Protein: Less than 1g.
  • Carbohydrates: Around 1g.
  • Vitamin K: Significant amount
  • Dietary Fiber: High in relation to their small size
  • Sodium: High due to their brining process

The antioxidants in capers, such as rutin and quercetin, may contribute to reducing oxidative stress, which could support your body’s defenses against certain chronic conditions.

Potential Considerations for Consumption

While capers offer numerous dietary benefits, it’s crucial to be aware of the high sodium content, a result of the pickling process.

If you’re managing your salt intake due to hypertension or heart concerns, use capers sparingly.

Furthermore, although rare, some individuals might have allergies to capers; if you experience any unusual symptoms, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider.

Capers have been noted for diuretic properties, which may support better digestion and water balance in the body.

However, if you are taking diuretic medications, consult with your doctor to avoid excessive consumption that could disturb your body’s balance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Capers stored in a glass jar with a tightly sealed lid, placed in a cool, dark pantry away from direct sunlight and heat sources

In this section, you’ll find concise answers to common queries about caper storage and maintenance.

How should capers be stored once opened?

Once opened, store your capers in their original glass jar with the brine or salt liquid, ensuring the container’s lid is sealed tight. Refrigerate them to preserve their flavor and extend shelf life.

What is the shelf life of capers after opening?

When stored properly in the refrigerator, capers can last for 1-2 years.

If they are in brine, they tend to last about nine months, but if salt-packed, they can keep up to two years.

Can you still use capers if they have been left unrefrigerated?

Capers left unrefrigerated for a short period, especially if still in their original liquid and container, might be safe to use. However, prolonged exposure to room temperature may increase the risk of spoilage.

What are the signs of spoilage in capers?

Signs of spoilage in capers include a noticeable change in odor, color, or texture.

If the capers appear wilted, discolored, or have an off-putting smell, they should not be consumed.

Is freezing a viable method for preserving capers?

Freezing is generally not recommended for capers, as it can alter their texture and flavor. The best way to preserve capers is by refrigeration.

How can you tell if capers have gone bad?

You can tell capers have gone bad if there’s growth of mold, an unpleasant smell, or if the brine becomes cloudy.

If the capers are mushy or slimy, they should be discarded.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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