Emmanuelle Jary - 2010-10-04
We eat them with pasta and pizzas and mix them into olive tapenades - but just what are capers? Give up?
In fact, capers are flower buds. And, if you’ve travelled through Italy, you’ve probably had large, oblong capers with aperitifs. These are caper berries, the fruit of the caper bush. Both the bud and the fruit are edible.
Capers come from a thorny bush which thrives in poor, rocky soil. From mid-June to mid-August, buds are harvested throughout the Mediterannean region before the bushes begin to flower. If bushes are allowed to blossom, after a few days seed pods begin to grow in the middle of the flowers. These grow very quickly and are gathered as soon as they’re big enough to be used as caper berries.
Turkey, where they grow wild, is responsible for 45% of the global production - 18,000 tonnes. 50% of the total comes from Morocco and the remaining 5% comes mostly from Iran and Syria. The caper’s quality is a question of the pickling process rather than its origin. After harvest, capers are calibrated and placed in a brine bath. They are then rinsed and preserved in salt or vinegar brine. Capers preserved in vinegar are more common than their salt-preserved cousins, but habits have been changing and it’s just as well - salted capers are far more flavourful and aromatic.