Origin: Southeast Asia
Have you ever noticed we always say "capers" and not just "caper"? It's because these little green buds are always used in quantity to enhance a dish. Traditionally they are served with smoked fish and used to garnish certain salads. An ingredient in cooking since ancient times, capers were used by the Romans to flavour their sauces.
The caper is actually the unopened bud of the caper bush, a spiny perennial shrub that reaches a height of 1 metre or more. It grows on dry stony ground in warm climates, and is found in olive-growing regions, particularly the Mediterranean. The buds are picked by hand, with the youngest, smallest ones being the most highly-prized. They are then pickled in vinegar or preserved in salt. Capers' particular pungency comes from the mustard oil they contain, and curing helps bring out their piquant flavour. They are graded according to size, the smallest being "nonpareilles," followed by "surfines," and then the larger and less valuable "capucines" and "communes."
Peoples living around the Mediterranean basin have longed used capers as a remedy against scurvy and rheumatism and as a diuretic. The Romans regarded them as aphrodisiacs and spiced their dishes with them both for their flavor and medicinal properties.
Capers have become a classic part of the cooking of Provence, where they are crushed in a mortar with anchovy fillets, garlic and olives. The mixture is then thickened with olive oil to form a spread called "tapenade."
The English are very fond of capers: caper sauce to accompany fish, anchovy and caper butter for boiled mutton, and capers to flavor lamb or veal meatballs and rice.
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