Capers pack a punch of salty, tangy flavor despite their small size. They are popularly used in salads, sauces, fish dishes, chicken piccata, and pasta puttanesca.
Although capers are a fantastic addition in small amounts to bring a bright pop of flavor to dishes, some people find the taste too astringent.
Whether you’ve run out of capers or need to choose a more suitable replacement without muting the flavor of your dish, this guide will help you choose the best caper substitute to finish your recipe.
Each alternative ingredient offers its own unique flavor, so keep in mind exactly what you want the capers substitute to add to your food when choosing the most suitable option.
What Are Capers?
Capers are small green flower buds from the thorny Mediterranean Capparis Spinosa shrub. They are typically pickled with a vinegar solution or preserved in water brine. Some capers are cured in salt. They are complex with high acidity, salty, tangy, sour, and bitter notes.
If preserved in salt it is best to rinse before adding them to a recipe. Capers brighten up everything from antipasti to eggs and are delicious in tartar sauce served with fish.
The great thing about these little pops of flavor is that they last months on end providing they are stored submerged in their brine.
Best Caper Substitutes
1. Chopped Green olives
The similar salty and bitter flavor profile of green olives makes them a great substitute for capers. They also have a similar green color.
Pitted green olives chopped into small pieces are ideal to use in chicken piccata, as a garnish on salmon, in beef tartare, casseroles, sauces, and salads.
Replacement quantity: Once chopped, replace olives measure for measure as a capers substitute.
2. Black Olives
Black olives have a softer, less intense flavor than green olives as they spend longer on the tree ripening before being picked. Black or Kalamata olives offer a salty burst with a little less bitterness than that of capers.
Black olives will pair well in similar dishes to that of green olives including chicken piccata, casseroles, sauces, and salads. Since they are somewhat bigger than capers, chopped Kalamata olives are best when used as a replacement for capers.
Replacement quantity: Once chopped, replace olives measure for measure to replace capers.
3. Nasturtium Seeds of Buds
Nasturtium is an edible flower that has a peppery flavor. The seeds are less bitter than capers and you can even pickle them yourself with vinegar, garlic, and dill. They make a delicious accompaniment with fish.
Replacement quantity: Replace in equal amounts.
4. Fresh Thyme
Fresh thyme is suitable as a substitute in recipes that require cooking and don’t need capers to feature as a star ingredient.
When used in casseroles and sauces, fresh thyme brings a slight lemony and pleasantly bitter taste. Add it early on during the cooking process so it has time to infuse.
Substitute quantity: The amount of thyme you use will depend on what you are making as well as the number of servings your recipe yields. Tie a few sprigs of thyme together and let them infuse while cooking.
This way it is easy to remove them before serving or when you are happy with the flavor intensity to avoid finding sticks in your finished dish.
5. Green Peppercorns
Green peppercorns are really just unripe black peppercorns that have been harvested early. They are great for visual appeal and don’t have the overpowering pepperiness of black peppercorns.
Green peppercorns offer a similar look to capers and also work well as a garnish on salmon. You can use the peppercorns from the jar as is, or pickle your own with water, salt, and lemon.
Substitute quantity: Replace measure for measure or use as a garnish.
A squeeze of lemon juice as a finishing touch or in a salad dressing can offer a good pop of acidity. A sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper with it can bring a slight touch of bitterness and some bite.
Substitute quantity: This will be very much subject to taste. A light squeeze over salad, fish, or in a dressing as a finishing touch should do the trick.
7. Dill Pickles
Dill pickles are a great alternative in terms of color, and their similar juicy sour, salty, acidic taste. This is especially a great choice to add to salads, tartar sauce, beef tartare, and antipasto platters. You will need to chop them into smaller pieces to use them as a capers substitute.
Substitute quantity: Chop into caper-sized pieces and replace in equal amounts.
8. Artichoke Hearts
Brined or pickled artichoke hearts can be used as a substitute to add complexity to your dish, although it doesn’t have the same appearance or assertive flavor. Drain and chop the artichoke hearts and add to fish, chicken, or pasta dishes.
Substitute quantity: Add according to taste.
Although anchovies and capers don’t taste or look the same, these salty little fish will add an intense depth of flavor to your dish, especially in pasta sauces and salad dressings.
If you need a last-minute replacement, these are great if you don’t mind the accompanying fishy taste. A dash of lemon added in the mix will bring acidity to the salty, umami flavor bomb.
Substitute quantity: Anchovies have a very strong flavor. One anchovy should be enough blended into your sauce or dressing. Adjust to taste.
10. Caper Berry
Caper berries are from the same plant as capers but have fully matured to become slightly bigger berry-sized fruits containing seeds.
Like capers, they are also pickled, but they have a less pungent flavor. This makes them a good alternative if you want a similar product but with less intensity.
Substitute quantity: Chop them into smaller pieces and substitute capers measure for measure.
11. Finely Chopped Pickled Onions
Pickled red onions have an astringent flavor and offer a strong pop of vinegar.
Substitute quantity: Cut the onion pickles into small pieces and substitute measure for measure or use slightly less onion to taste.
With their robust acidic, salty, sour, and slightly bitter taste, capers add a unique and delicious flavor to a variety of savory dishes. Deciding which of its properties are most important to your dish can help you choose an excellent substitute.
If the visual appeal, saltiness, and slightly bitter flavor of capers is what you’re after, olives and green peppercorns are good options. If you prize the burst of acidity, opt for pickled onions, dill pickles, or a squeeze of lemon. If an umami depth of flavor is what your sauce or dish needs, anchovies are a different, but good substitute.
With so many delicious flavors to choose from, your next cook is bound to be a taste bud sensation.
*image by AndreySt/depositphotos