Capers are very common in Mediterranean dishes, including Greek and Italian foods, and even becoming an ingredient to add to sauces for an extra flavor. However, capers pack a distinct taste that not everyone likes, so if this is the case, you may want to be aware of some ingredients that could replace them.
Also, capers are small and sometimes rare, which may mean they are hard to find, and that’s why it’s great knowing the alternatives that can be used instead.
In the past, capers have been used to pickle foods or as flavor additives, but they are an acquired taste for most. If your recipe requires some capers in it, whether full, mashed, or blended, then you don’t have to worry about finding other foods that can go in their place, and that will result in an equally tasty dish.
What Are Capers?
Capers come from the thorny perennial plant Capparis Spinosa. This fruit is picked when unripe and then pickled by being saturated in salt brine or vinegar.
This plant is a cousin of the cabbage, and it comes in various sizes, some very small and some as big as a grape. The taste is somewhat salty, sour, and a bit briny.
What Can You Replace Caper With?
These are the best caper substitutes you can try:
#1. Green Olives
This option may not be surprising, considering that green olives are common in the same dishes and cuisines as capers. These usually come brined and pitted, but you can find them in different sizes and preparations. They are very easy to find everywhere, usually by the canned goods section in your grocery store.
To mimic the texture and flavor you can cut the olives into smaller pieces and simply replace them for capers during the cooking process. Because these are much bigger than capers, you can use about half the number of what the recipe calls for.
#2. Dill Pickles
Because they are also brined, dill pickles can offer a somewhat similar taste. You can get a different result with each brand though, so be careful with which preparation you pick, as it may be best to go with the local farmer’s market pick in terms of flavor.
You can dice them up very small and add a bit at a time, making sure the particular flavor of the dill pickle isn’t overpowering your dish. Also, keep in mind that when cooked, the texture can change and the moisture can leak, making the pickle sort of tasteless.
This is a very versatile option because it is a herb that blends well with many flavors. The flavor of thyme is quite similar to capers, but unlike them, it releases flavor more subtly and slowly as it is cooked. You can find fresh thyme in the produce section of your grocery store, and if you can’t find it fresh, some places do sell it dry.
How to use it is up to you. You can use the whole stem and leaves, or just chop up some of the leaves. Some people like to add thyme during the cooking process and others like to sprinkle it right at the end while the dish finishes cooking.
#4. Pickled Artichoke Hearts
Artichoke hearts are a good replacement for olives because they are pickled and subtle in taste. Usually, they come brined in olive oil, salt, and lemon juice in a jar or can, so you can simply drain the juices and cut the artichoke hearts in smaller pieces.
You can usually find artichoke hearts in the canned section of the grocery store, but if you can only find whole artichokes you can still use them, just make sure you pick the less fibrous parts.
#5. Nasturtium Seeds
This is a flower than can be eaten whole, including the leaves. The seeds can be used instead of capers when they are pickled, usually in vinegar, dill, garlic, and peppercorns. These are hard to find already pickled though, so you can get them from your local florist and plant them at home and then pickle them.
Because they have a peppery flavor, these seeds go very well in salads, pasta, and as a pre-marinade for meats.
#6. Mustard Greens
These greens have a sharp flavor that can be a good replacement instead of capers, especially if you’re not a fan of pickled foods.
The best way to prepare them is to saute them with garlic and salt, and maybe a bit of acid flavor from lime or lemon juice, and then chop them up to serve in a salad or as a side dish.
If your recipe calls for mashed or blended capers, then you should saute these greens first and then mash them or blend them as well. However, you may want to add fewer of these greens, as they are a bit stronger and have somewhat of a bitter flavor.
If you don’t have any of these choices, the best alternative is to use a bit of mashed garlic or maybe a sprinkle of lime or lemon juice. While the crunchy texture may not be there, these ingredients will add flavor that can mimic the taste from capers.
For this specific recipe, you can change capers for green olives, as these add salt, bitter, and somewhat acidic flavors. Green olives can be a good alternative in many Italian dishes, including this.
The taste seems to be different for everyone, but the consensus is of a combination of sour and salty. The aroma is tangy and strong, somewhat close to a lemon. If you saute them, they can get a charred salty taste that goes well in creamy sauces.
Capers look very similar to olives, but unlike olives, capers cannot be eaten straight from the jar as they tend to be unbearably salty, thus, they need to be rinsed first.
Capers have a unique taste to them, which is why many stay away from them. But you can try these alternatives instead to add to your dish without altering the recipe too much.
Keep in mind though that many have a strong flavor to them too, but you can try them out first and decide for yourself.
*Photo by AndreySt/depositphotos