The first time I had a caper was in a chicken piccata dish, and I had mixed opinions. There was such a strong brininess to them that was almost overpowering. I would describe them as tinier and mightier versions of olives. Recently, I found out that capers much different from olives, and I was curious as to find out: 1) what is a caper exactly, and 2) where on Earth they come from.

History of Capers

cream cheese, bread, lettuce, tomato, salad, cheese, cucumber, salmon, bagel
Christina Warner

Capers have been around since ancient times. The use of capers dates back to 2000 BC where they are mentioned as a food in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Capers are grown in parts of Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Southern Europe, Turkey and California.

Caper plants grow year-round. The cultivation of capers has significantly increased in the last 30 years due to rising demand. Brined or dried, caper berries and capers have always been valued for the burst of pickley and lemony flavor they give to foods. 

Caper Berries vs Capers

Capers are the unopened buds of the caper bush, but capers are not the same thing as caper berries. While capers are the immature flower buds of the bush, caper berries are the fruit the bush produces once the buds have flowered and then been fertilized.

Caper berries are about the size of a grape and are often harvested with their stems attached. They are also cured in vinegar just like capers. Capers take a little bit longer to harvest because they are allowed to mature to a fruit about the size of an olive. 


Pickling capers is a long and tedious process. They’re too small and delicate to be plucked by machine, so they have to be harvested individually.

After being picked, capers are sorted by size and then dried, brined, or salted, processed and packaged. Since the caper buds are picked by hand, a small jar can be a little pricey.

How to Eat Capers

Capers and caper berries add a nice saltiness to rich, creamy, and/or cheesy foods. Capers are used for balance in many dishes. Their pickle-like flavor perfectly complements smooth, buttery, or velvety flavors and textures. They can add a salty, lemony brininess to any dish and take your cooking to the next level. 

Caper berries are one of the star ingredients in piccata dishes (usually chicken piccata or fish piccata). You can even use capers in a sauce, on a bagel with lox, in salad, or on pizza. 

#SpoonTip: To use capers in recipes, it’s a good idea to rinse them first to remove all the excess salt or brine.

Fancier Take

tomato, cheese, toast, bruschetta, bread
Vicky Sanford

You can even try a caper tapenade or pesto to serve on a crostini, or if you really want to impress your guests, serve caper berries mixed with other brined and pickled vegetables on an antipasti platter. 

So, what is a caper? Now you know! Capers can help balance the flavors in many dishes. These guys are super briny and lemony, so use just the right amount in your recipes. A little can truly go a long way.