Published January 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.
We tasted six nationally available supermarket brands of brined non-pareil capers, evaluating them on their sharpness, saltiness, and overall appeal.
An ideal caper has the perfect balance of saltiness, sweetness, acidity, and crunch. These sun-dried, pickled flower buds from the spiny shrub Capparis spinosa are used most often as a garnish in Mediterranean cooking, providing a pungent contrast to richer flavors. Green and roughly round, they range from the tiniest non-pareils to the largest caperberries, which are buds that have opened and set fruit. Their strong flavor develops as they are cured, either immersed in a salty brine (sometimes with vinegar) or packed in salt. Brined capers are the most commonly available and are less expensive than salt-packed. From previous tastings, we knew we preferred the compact size and slight crunch of tiny non-pareil capers, but which brand is best? We tasted six nationally available supermarket brands of brined non-pareil capers, evaluating them on their sharpness, saltiness, and overall appeal.
The winner had every component of the ideal caper: an acidic punch with a lingering sweetness that was both floral and pungent, and a crunchy texture that matched its flavorful bite. Some capers were slightly too salty, masking their fruity and floral notes. Other capers, while basically acceptable, fell down in the rankings for lacking the right balance of salt and acid or for having a texture that was too soft or too chewy. Our last place capers were criticized for being overwhelmingly salty and unbalanced, with tasters detecting “dirt” and “mothballs” among the flavor notes.