Already have an account?
Get back to the
Food & Recipes

What Exactly Is a Caper + Why You Want to Have a Jar On Hand If You Love Italian Food

A complete guide to using the tangy buds to flavor-up sauces, stews, pasta and marinades

You might think capers are a fancy ingredient reserved for chefs in expensive restaurants. Or perhaps you’ve seen them on the grocery store shelf but were never quite sure what to do with them. Actually, capers are super-easy to use, and they’re perfect for adding a briny pop to all sorts of dishes — that’s why we love them in the First for Women test kitchen. Read on to find out what is a caper, then get eight recipes that are sure to become regulars on your dinner table. We promise: Once you learn more about these versatile flavor bombs, you’ll always want to have a jar of capers on hand.

What is a caper?

Bright, tangy, and infused with floral notes, capers are the small, unripe buds of the caper bush (Capparis spinosa), a plant grown in Italy, Spain, France, Morocco and other parts of the world. Ranging from the size of a petite green pea to a small olive, capers are generally associated with Mediterranean cuisine.

You can find them in the condiment aisle of your local grocery store, either jarred in brine or salt-packed. I like to stir them into sauces, stews, fish dishes and pasta, or I sometimes chop them up to add into salad dressings and marinades. You can also toss them into meatballs, sprinkle them over pizza or stir them into sautéed veggies. The possibilities really are endless!

Related: You’ll Love Castelvetrano Olives: They’re Buttery, Delicious + Boost Your Health Too

What’s the difference between brined and salt-cured capers?

Much like olives, capers cannot be eaten straight from the bush or tree. They must be cured to enhance their flavor and texture. The two most common methods of preserving capers are brining and packing in salt. Brined capers are submerged in salt water or a vinegar mixture with preserves, while salt-packed capers are encrusted in sea salt. 

Brined capers, with their sharp edge and bold flavor, are super-convenient. All you need to do is drain the liquid and they’re ready to toss into your dish. Salt-packed capers retain a better texture, but they’re not as pungent and they take just a bit more time to prep. Simply rinse away the excess salt, soak them in cold water for about 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry.

What to do with liquid from the caper jar

When draining capers, don’t just toss the tangy liquid down the drain. Try adding a tablespoon or two of the salty brine to enhance dressing and marinades. I often stir a splash of caper brine into dips, sandwich spreads, pickling liquids and even drinks like Bloody Marys.

How to store capers

Once opened, a jar of brined capers can be stored in the fridge for up to six months. Just be sure the capers are completely submerged in the liquid. For salt-packed capers, store them, covered, in a cool dry place for up to a month.

What are caperberries?

While regular capers are picked when they are still young buds, caperberries develop after the flower has bloomed. They are about the size of an olive and are picked and pickled with the stem still attached. Generally, they are not as pungent as their smaller cousins, so caperberries are better as a garnish or stirred into a dish at the end of cooking. I like to serve caperberries on antipasto platters, charcuterie boards, salads or even to replace olives in a martini.

8 easy and delicious caper recipes

It just takes a tablespoon or two of capers to add rich flavor to dishes. Here are a few of our favorites recipes to get you started:

1. Chorizo Pasta Puttanesca

Chorizo Pasta Puttanesca with capers
Are Media

Thanks to a handful of Kalamata olives and capers, our simple from-scratch sauce gets an easy upgrade.


  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 (3.5 oz.) pkg. dried chorizo sausage, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • ½ cup drained, pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 Tbs. drained brined capers
  • 8 oz. fettuccine
  • Fresh basil leaves


  1. Meanwhile, in large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 min. Add chorizo; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 min.; add garlic; cook 30 sec. Stir in tomatoes with juice, tomato paste and ¾ cup water until combined. Stir in olives and capers. 
  2. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors blend, about 15 min. Uncover; cook until thickened, 5 min. 
  3. Bring large pot salted water to boil. Add pasta to boiling water; cook according to package directions for al dente. Drain; return to pot.
  4. Add sauce to pasta; toss until evenly 

Servings: 4. Active time: 25 min. Total time: 45 min.

2. Chicken Piccata

chicken piccata with capers

A splash of lemon juice perfectly complements the capers that are essential in this classic Italian dish.


  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • ½ cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1 Tbs. capers 
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 4 boneless chicken breast halves 
  • 2 tsp. Greek seasoning
  • Lemon wheels, for garnish


  1. In nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30 sec. Add wine; let simmer until reduced to 2 Tbs., about 5 min. Add sour cream, capers and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, until flavors blend, about 3 min. Transfer to bowl. 
  2. Coat chicken with cooking spray; sprinkle with seasoning. Coat same skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook turning once until no longer pink in center, about 4 min. per side.
  3. Add sauce back to pan. Cook until heated through. Transfer to platter. Garnish with lemon wheels.

Servings: 4. Active time: 30 min. Total time: 30 min. 

3. Tomato-Leek Parmesan Rice with Capers   

Tomato-Leek Parmesan Rice with capers

Colorful veggies, tangy capers, Italian herbs and Parmesan make this fluffy dish a welcome addition to any meal.


  • 1 leek, white and light green only 
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • ½ tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 2¼ cups lower sodium chicken broth
  • 1 pt. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tbs. drained capers
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Quarter leek lengthwise and cut crosswise into ¼”-thick slices. You should have about 1½ cups slices. In large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil. 
  2. Add leeks, Italian seasoning and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in rice, then broth. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to boil; stir again. 
  3. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 20 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with fork; stir in tomatoes, capers and Parmesan cheese. Transfer to bowl.

Servings: 4. Active time: 10 min. Total time: 45 min.

4. Tangy Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs with capers

Capers are the surprising ingredient in the filling for this twist on a classic picnic finger food.


  • 8 eggs
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. yellow mustard
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh chives + additional
  • 1 Tbs. chopped drained capers
  • ⅛ tsp. paprika


  1. In pot over high heat, bring eggs and enough water to cover by 1” to boil. Cover. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Drain. Cover eggs with cold water. When cool, peel and halve lengthwise. 
  2. Transfer yolks to bowl, reserving whites. Mash yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Stir in chopped chives and capers. 
  3. If desired, transfer yolk mixture to pastry bag fitted with star tip. Pipe or spoon mixture into egg white halves. Sprinkle with paprika. If desired, garnish with additional chives. 

Servings: 8. Active time: 20 min. Total time: 40 min. + cooling time

5. Caprese Hot Dogs

Caprese hot dogs
Food & Photo

The capers in our tomato topping add punch to these smoky dogs — make extra to use as a condiment on sandwiches. 


  • 1 pint yellow and/or red cherry tomatoes
  • 1 (8 oz.) ball fresh mozzarella
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs. drained capers
  • 8 soft hoagie rolls, split
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • 8 hot dogs


  1. Prepare grill for medium-high direct-heat cooking. Quarter tomatoes. Cut mozzarella into ½” pieces. In bowl, combine oil, vinegar, pepper and salt. Add tomatoes, mozzarella, red onion, basil and capers; toss until combined. 
  2. Grill rolls, cut side down, until lightly toasted, about 1 min. Remove; rub cut side of bread with garlic. 
  3. Grill hot dogs, rotating, until cooked through, 5-7 min. Place hot dogs in rolls; top with tomato-mozzarella salad.

Servings: 8. Active time: 20 min. Total time: 30 min. + grill prep time

6. Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken cacciatore with capers
Food & Photo

Just a dash of balsamic and a handful of capers add extra richness to this set-it-and-forget-it crowd pleaser.


  • 2 red and/or green peppers, sliced 
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin removed
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • ¼ cup drained, rinsed capers 
  • 8 oz. bow-tie pasta, cooked


  1. Place peppers, onion and garlic in 4-qt. slow cooker. Toss chicken pieces with flour to coat, shaking off and reserving excess flour. Place chicken over vegetables in slow cooker.
  2. Drain diced tomatoes. Stir together drained tomatoes, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and reserved flour; pour over chicken. Cover; cook on low until chicken pieces are tender, 8–10 hrs.
  3. Skim and discard fat from slow cooker. Stir in capers. Place pasta on serving platter; top with chicken mixture.

Servings: 6. Active time: 20 min. Total time: 10 hrs.

7. Penne with Eggplant Tomato Sauce

Penne with Eggplant Tomato Sauce
Are Media

We jazzed up convenient jarred pasta sauce with olives, capers and meaty chunks of eggplant.


  • 8 oz. penne pasta
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small eggplant, 8 oz., trimmed, cut into 1” pieces
  • 1½ cups tomato-basil pasta sauce, from 24-oz. jar
  • ⅛ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup drained pitted green olives, halved
  • 1 Tbs. drained capers
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan


  1. In large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions for al dente; drain. Return to pot.
  2. Meanwhile, in large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add eggplant; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 7-8 min. Add sauce, pepper flakes and ½ cup water; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; cook until eggplant is tender, 10 min. Stir in olives and capers. 
  3. Add sauce to pot with pasta; stir until evenly coated. Transfer mixture to serving bowl; sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan.

Servings: 4. Active time: 15 min. Total time: 30 min.

8. Panko and Caper Crusted Tilapia

Are Media

Our easy prep lemon-caper-mayo topping adds an elegant finish to this flaky fish. 


  • 1 cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbs. + ⅓ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbs. drained capers
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 carrots, cut into ½” sticks
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. + ⅛ tsp. salt
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into ½” sticks
  • 4 (4-5 oz.) tilapia fillets
  • ⅛ tsp. pepper
  • Parsley leaves, lemon zest strips and lemon halves, for garnish


  1. In bowl, combine panko, 2 Tbs. mayonnaise, parsley and capers. In separate bowl, combine remaining ⅓ cup mayonnaise and lemon juice.
  2. In bowl, toss carrots with 1 tsp. oil and ¼ tsp. salt. In separate bowl toss zucchini with remaining 1 tsp. oil and ⅛ tsp. salt.
  3. Sprinkle tilapia with remaining ⅛ tsp. salt and pepper, then caper-panko mixture. 
  4. Place crisper plate in 7-qt air fryer; coat with cooking spray. Place basket in air fryer; heat to air-fry at 350°F.
  5. Place carrots in basket. Air-fry 8-9 min., shaking basket halfway through cooking.
  6. Add zucchini; air-fry until tender, 4-5 min. Transfer vegetables to plate; cover.
  7. In 2 batches, transfer fish to basket. Air-fry until cooked through, 4-5 min. per batch. Serve with vegetables and lemon mayonnaise. Garnish with parsley, lemon zest and lemon halves.

Servings: 4. Active time: 30 min. Total time: 45 min.

Want to learn more about how food pros use capers? Click through to these articles:

The Pasta Queen Talks Food, Family, and What Makes a Dish “Just Gorgeous”

How To Get Several Meals From a Single Chicken — Budget Tips From a Pro Butcher

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.