Capers are a very well known and appreciated product since ancient times and authors such as Dioscorides and Pliny cited it in their works; even the Bible (Ecclesiastes XII 5) refers to their properties. In the modernage, specific information can be found in the essay by Prof. Calcara, “Breve cenno sulla Geognosia ed agricoltura dell'isola di Pantelleria”, published in “Il Giornale della Commissione d'Agricoltura e Pastorizia in Sicilia”, Palermo, 1855.
THE PLANT - The caper (Capparis spinosa L.) is a shrub typical of the Mediterranean vegetation growing on old walls, in rock cracks and in stone piles, especially in sea places; it is composed of a basal and woody trunk and herbaceous branches in the superior part. Its height goes from 30 to 50 cm; leaves are dark-green, fleshy and oval shaped, while white-pink flowers with purplish shimmer are very eye-catching and perfumed and have a diameter of 5 cm and many purple stamen in the central part. The fruit is a berry filled with a lot of black seeds. The flowering of the caper plant is between the end of May and the beginning of September, when the picking of buds – not bloomed flowers - takes place; buds must be picked as soon as they bud: they are small, hard and very flavoured. Farmers go back to the same plants every 8-10 days, according to the weather and their work is very hard both because they have to bent down and because of the suffocating summer climate.
PROPERTIES – Capers contains more quercetin per weight than any other plant. Root cortex is used in herbal medicine. It has diuretic and blood vessel protective properties; it can also be used to treat gout, haemorrhoids and varicose veins. A caper roots and shoot infusion was used in popular medicine to relieve from rheumatisms. Recently, dried caper fruit extracts (especially if associated with Olea europa, Glycyrrhiza glabra and ribes nigrum) have been proved to be a skin antioxidant, antiphlogistic and valid in allergic dermatopathologies.
Capers contain mineral salts (potassium, calcium, sodium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus), and vitamins B1, B2; PP, C.
Nutritional values for 100 gr of product:
- Calories: 23;
- Water: 83,85;
- Proteins: 2,36;
- Fats: 0.86;
- Carbohydrates: 4,89;
- Fibres: 2,3;
CULINARY USE – Capers are preserved with salt, in vinegar and in brine to be used in many ways to prepare pasta, main course, sauces and seasonings. Capers are very easy to use: you just have to take the required quantity and wash them with water, eliminating preserving salt or, if you like them less salty, you leave them in a brawl with water for one hour and then they are ready to be used. If you buy capers in plastic bags, you just need to transfer them in a glass pot with a cap in order not to lose humidity. Pantelleria capers are able to last different years if well preserved, maintaining their excellent organoleptic characteristics. Aromatic properties are contained in flower buds, generally called capers. Capers, which are used in gastronomy from millenniums, are still picked closed and preserved with salt or in vinegar, and are used to aromatize dishes and fit very well with a great variety of food: meat, fish, and pasta. The fruit, with a taste similar to capers but more delicate is called “cucuncio” or “cocuncio” or “capperone” (big caper) and it is preserved with salt, in vinegar or in brine and, traditionally, it is used in Aeolian isles recipes to season fish courses. People from Aeolian isles use to desalinate “cucnci” and capers and eat them as any other vegetable, usually in salads. Also young leaves can be used in salads if previously cooked in hot boiling water for few minutes. People from Pantelleria isle have a funny way to favour the cultivation of capers: using a blowgun, they “shoot” caper seeds in well exposed wall cracks or on roofs.