Eating Flowers, Part Two: Capers Preserved in Sea Salt


Like us, the ancient Greeks and Romans ate capers. They also used the roots and leaves of the caper bush, or Capparis Spinosa, for medicinal purposes. The Roman naturalist and author, Pliny the Elder, noted the caper in Naturalis Historia, his encyclopedic study of geography, anthropology, and natural history. And the Greek scholar, Athenaeus, mused upon it in his fifteen-book work, The Deipnosophistae, or The Banquet of the Learned or (my favorite translation of the title) Philosophers at Dinner, in which the protagonist, Ulpian, is the host of a long, leisurely banquet throughout which literary and historical conversations course.

It seems the bush’s medicinal properties warrant the attention: The ancient Greeks used capers to reduce flatulence. In Ayurveda, the Hindu system of traditional medicine, capers are known as hepatic stimulants and protectors, improving liver function. Today we understand that when a caper bud is dehydrated, salted, or brined, it releases mustard oil (glucocapparin). That enzymatic reaction then leads to the formation of rutin, a powerful antioxidant bioflavonoid.

Medicinal properties aside, many of us agree that the fruit of the Capparis Spinosa is delicious. Since the ancient Greeks preserved capers—and olives—in sea salt (brining methods were developed later), we’ll begin with salt, too.

Salt-Cured Capers

Sea salt

  1. Sort the capers carefully, picking off any long stems.
  2. Rinse them in a colander; pat dry.
  3. Place the capers in a jar, layering them with sea salt. (If you have a lot of capers, it’s best to use two small jars.)
  4. Cover the jar with its lid and shake it to make sure the salt is well distributed.
  5. Remove the lid and cover the jar with a paper napkin; close with a rubber band.
  6. Leave the jar where it will get some air, but not in direct sunlight.
  7. Every day, drain off any liquid that forms, adding another spoonful of salt in the process.
  8. When the capers stop giving off liquid (in 5-10 days), transfer to a clean jar and close with a lid.

Salt-cured capers can be kept in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Before using, rinse in cold water. They may also be used unrinsed in place of salt.

Since my love affair with the caper began, I’ve noticed that there are subtle variations within the curing-in-salt theme. My friend Hank Shaw told me that blanching the capers for one minute before salt-curing them will halt the enzymatic process and preserve the buds’ bright green color. A method used in Sicily, where salted capers are common, calls for dehydrating them before beginning the process above.


12 thoughts on “Eating Flowers, Part Two: Capers Preserved in Sea Salt

  1. Since your first piece on capers we have eaten them twice….mixed in with chopped tomatoes, olives, red onions, olive oil and vinegar, served with pasta. A favorite dish now and great for the hot weather. Adam says he could have this dish 2xs a week….I might take him up on it and will be sure to always include the capers. Maybe some day I will have picked my own to preserve. Thanks again for adding to our culinary fun. Annabel

  2. Pingback: Eating Flowers, Part Three: Capers Preserved in Vinegar | The Shepherd and the Olive Tree

  3. Thank you for linking to my blog. Yours looks absolutely lovely and I can’t wait to explore the rest of it! I must say that I completely agree with you about salted capers being by far the best. When I originally wrote my post, I hadn’t yet learned that salted capers just get better with time!! It somehow maintains that glorious floral aroma that pickling just destroys. Not to mention the delicious flavored salt it leaves behind! I packed my capers in an abundant amount of coarse salt and I was able to do wonderful things with the salt, like marinate sliced onions (you must try this it is divine

  4. Thanks for this recipe. I am making them now, but I started before reading this. I added a step of soaking them before salting for 5 days, changing the water every day to remove bitterness. Probably unnecessary, but I hope that I didn’t ruin them…

  5. Pingback: A Taste of the Sea: Marinated Anchovies | The Shepherd and the Olive Tree

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