What are capers?

gathering capers

So, what are capers? Capers are very commonly found in cuisine in many different areas of the Mediterranean and have been around since ancient times. Sadly, capers are often disliked or misunderstood, everywhere else. 

Capers are the pickled flower buds of the shrub ‘Capparis spinosa’ and the people of Pantelleria say that they are inedible if eaten raw. So, just like the olive, Italian have found a way to enjoy these little fruits through the process of curing. This curing process brings out their delicate, floral aroma and preserves them for all year-round use.

Capparis spinosa is a perennial shrub with deep roots that can reach heights of four to five feet. The most renowned species of caper in Italy, is the Cappero di Pantelleria, named after the island south of Sicily where it grows. In fact, it has received the European IGP label (Indication of Geographic Protection) that certifies the authenticity and geographic origin. This certification is awarded to very few foods and so we are extremely proud to be able to have them available to you, here at The Big Dream Factory.

Processing capers

Capers are so delicate that it is impossible to successfully harvest them mechanically. Therefore, each caper both large and small has to be harvested by hand one at a time. They are also sorted by size, dried in the sun, brined or stored in salt, processed and packaged by hand. For this reason, they are expensive. In fact, Pantelleria capers are considered to be the most superior of all capers available on the market because of their floral notes and fine quality.

After 3 weeks of curing, the farmers bring their capers to the ‘capperificio’ for processing. The farmers have already salted the capers but now they have to be sorted into various sizes. So the first job of the capperificio is to remove the old salt. Once the capers are sorted into their various sizes, they are packed into tall barrels and fresh salt. They are kept in these barrels and are only packed to order.

Recipes with capers


Now that we know a little more about these tiny power houses of flavour, what next? Before you cook with your brined or salted capers, always rinse and drain them thoroughly first, to remove the excess salt unless you can use the salt in the recipe (you may be able to omitted any additional salt).

Once prepared, you will be able to taste the caper, add them to your pizza, to sauces for fish, meat, vegetables and salads. You can also create caper tapenade, pesto and salsa to serve over bruschetta, crostini, cooked meats and fish or anything you can invent for them as part of an antipasto platter.

Picking capers on Pantelleria

We hope that you are now fearlessly keen to discover all the wonderful possibilities of capers. Incidentally, the best capers are grown on the Italian island of Pantelleria – these are the only ones available from Pasta Nostra USA!

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