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The caper (Capparis spinosa L.) is a perennial spiny bush that bears rounded, fleshy leaves and big white to pinkish-white flowers. A caper is also the pickled bud of this plant. The bush is native to the Mediterranean region, growing wild on walls or in rocky coastal areas throughout. The plant is best known for the edible bud and fruit (caper berry) which are usually consumed pickled. Other species of Capparis are also picked along with C. spinosa for their buds or fruits.

Plant

Capparis spinosa is highly variable in nature in its native habitats and is found growing near the closely related species C. sicula, C. orientalis, and C. aegyptia. Scientists can use the known distributions of each species to identify the origin of commercially prepared capers.

The shrubby plant is many-branched, with alternate leaves, thick and shiny, round to ovate in shape. The flowers are complete, sweetly fragrant, showy, with four sepals, and four white to pinkish-white petals, many long violet-colored stamens, and a single stigma usually rising well above the stamens.

Cultivation

Capers can be grown easily from fresh seed, gathered from ripe fruit and planted into well drained seed-raising mix.Seedlings will appear in 2-4 weeks. Old, stored seeds enter a state of dormancy and require cold stratification in order to germinate.Cuttings from semi-hardwood shoots taken in Autumn may root, but this is not a reliable means of propagation. Caper plants prefer full sun in warm/temperate climates and should be treated much like cacti. They require regular watering in summer and very little during winter and are deciduous, though in warmer climates they may simply stop growing.Capers have a curious reaction to sudden increases in humidity - they form wart-like pock marks across the leaf surface. This appears to be harmless as the plant quickly adjusts to the new conditions and produce unaffected leaves. Seedling capers can be expected to flower from the second to third year and live for at least decades, and probably much longer.

Culinary uses

Salted capers
Pickled caperberries
Pickled capers in a jar
The salted and pickled caper bud (also called caper and gabbar for Turkish Cypriots) is often used as a seasoning or garnish. Capers are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, especially Cypriot. The mature fruit of the caper shrub is also prepared similarly, and marketed as caper berries.

The buds, when ready to pick, are a dark olive green and about the size of a kernel of corn. They are picked, then pickled in salt, or a salt and vinegar solution, or drained. Intense flavor is developed, as mustard oil (glucocapparin) is released from each caper bud. This enzymatic reaction also leads to the formation of rutin often seen as crystallized white spots on the surfaces of individual caper buds.

Capers are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially in Sicilian and southern Italian cooking. They are commonly used in salads, pasta salads, pizzas, meat dishes and pasta sauces. Examples of uses in Italian cuisine are chicken piccata and salsa puttanesca.

Capers are also known for being one of the ingredients of tartar sauce. They are also often served with cold smoked salmon or cured salmon dishes (especially lox and cream cheese). Capers are also sometimes substituted for olives to garnish a martini.

Capers are categorized and sold by their size, defined as follows, with the smallest sizes being the most desirable: Non-pareil (up to 7 mm), surfines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), capotes (9-11 mm), fines (11-13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm).

Unripe nasturtium seeds can be substituted for capers; they have a very similar texture and flavour when pickled. Pickled caperberries are also very popular as a snack in Menorcamarker.

If the caper bud is not picked, it flowers and produces a fruit called a caperberry. The fruit can be pickled and then served as a Greek mezze.

In addition, the Greeks make good use of the caper’s leaves, which are especially desirable and hard to find outside of Greece. They are pickled or boiled and preserved in jars with brine cf. caper buds. Caper leaves are excellent in salads and in fish dishes. Dried caper leaves are also used as a substitute for rennet in the manufacturing of high quality cheese. Capers grown on the island of Santorinimarker are reputed to be of a very high quality, presumably because of the volcanic ash subsoil.

Nutrition information

Medicinal uses

In Greek popular medicine an herbal tea made of caper root and young shoots is considered to be beneficial against rheumatism. Dioscoride (MM 2.204t) also provides instructions on the use of sprouts, roots, leaves and seeds in the treatment of strangury and inflammation.Rutin is a powerful antioxidant bioflavonoid in the body. Used as a dietary supplement for capillary fragility. Rutin has no known toxicity. Capers contain more quercetin per weight than any other plant.

History

The caper was used in ancient Greece as a carminative. It is represented in archaeological levels in the form of carbonised seeds and rarely as flowerbuds and fruits from archaic and Classical antiquity contexts. Athenaeus in Deipnosophistae pays a lot of attention to the caper, as do Pliny (NH XIX, XLVIII.163) and Theophrastus.

Etymologically, the caper and its relatives in several European tongues can be traced back to Classical Latin capparis, “caper”, in turn borrowed from the Greek κάππαρις, kápparis, whose origin (as that of the plant) is unknown but is probably Asian. Another theory links kápparis to the name of the island of Cyprusmarker (Κύπρος, Kýpros), where capers grow abundantly.

A ripe caper fruit ("caper berry")
In Biblical times the caper-berry was apparently supposed to have aphrodisiac properties; the Hebrew word abiyyonah (אֲבִיּוֹנָה) for caper-berry is closely linked to the Hebrew root אבה, meaning "desire". The word occurs once in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, at verse .

The King James Version translates on the basis of the Hebrew root (and perhaps the metaphorical meaning):
...the grasshopper shall be a burden,

and desire shall fail.
( KJV)


The medieval Jewish commentator Rashi also gives a similar gloss ( JPR). However ancient translations, including the Septuagint, Vulgate, Peshitta and Aquila, render the word more concretely as κάππαρις, "caper berry". Thus in the words of one modern idiomatic translation (2004),
...the grasshopper loses its spring,

and the caper berry has no effect;
( HCSB)


Of other modern versions, the NIV goes for "desire" ( NIV), while the NASB has "caper-berry" ( NASB), as did the 1917 Jewish Publication Society version ( JPS).

The berries (abiyyonot) were eaten, as appears from their liability to tithes and to the restrictions of the 'Orlah. They are carefully distinguished in the Mishnah and the Talmud from the shoots, temarot, and the floral envelopes, ḳapperisin; and declared to be the fruit of the ẓalef or caper-plant. But the caper of present-day commerce, the flower-bud, which is now eaten pickled, is not mentioned in the Talmud at all.

References

  1. {{cite web|last = Watson|first = L.|coauthors = MJ Dallwitz|title = The Families of Flowering Plants|date= 1992 onwards|url = http://delta-intkey.com/angio/www/capparid.htm|dateformat = dmy | accessdate=21 November 2006} It is also the mascot of Cape Elizabeth High School, located in Maine}
  2. Mike, Tad, "Capers: The Flower Inside", Epikouria Magazine, Fall/Winter 2006
  3. Ruth Winter.1978. A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives. Crown Publishers, Inc., New York.
  4. USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods
  5. Fragiska, M. (2005). Wild and Cultivated Vegetables, Herbs and Spices in Greek Antiquity. Environmental Archaeology 10 (1): 73-82
  6. Spice Pages: Capers, University of Graz, Austria [1]
  7. Kaufmann Kohler and Henry Hyvernat, Caper-berry, from the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906)
  8. See eg Gesenius's lexicon, via Blue Letter Bible
  9. Though, as the Jewish Encyclopedia points out, the female form abiyyonah should strictly mean "the desiring thing", rather than "desire" itself. Kimhi suggested "soul".


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