Capers are an essential flavor component in many recipes, from sauces to salads to pasta, but if you don’t have any on hand or can’t find them at your local grocery store, there are plenty of substitutes for capers that can carry the same piquant bite and bright brininess. Here we look at some of the best caper substitutes that can bring that distinct salty, yet tangy flavor to your dish.
Capers are the small, unripened flower buds of a Mediterranean bush. They have a tangy, salty, lemony flavor, often used to season dishes like sauces, salads, salad dressings, sandwiches, stir-fries, pasta, or toppings for dips like hummus or guacamole. It is also possible to pickle capers and eat them as a condiment. A substitute for capers should be able to mimic its capabilities.
The best substitutes for capers are chopped green olives, chopped kalamata olives, lemon juice, pickles or pickled onions, green peppercorns, fresh or dried thyme, pickled or marinated artichoke hearts, anchovies, nasturtium seeds, lime juice, vinegar, and red or white wine. Read on to discover more about each option, including substitution directions. Get more info from the FAQs section.
1. Chopped green olives
Instead of capers in your kitchen, you can use large green olives packed in water. Green olives mimic the briny flavor of capers and are a great substitute for any meal.
Chop the olives roughly before using them. For the best results, substitute 1 tablespoon of capers with 1 tablespoon of olives.
2. Chopped kalamata olives
Kalamata olives are an excellent substitute for capers in various dishes, particularly salads. They have the lemony taste of capers and will enhance the flavors in your dish. The olives also create a contrasting texture.
Substitute capers with chopped kalamata olives in a 1:1 ratio.
3. Lemon juice
If you have some lemons in your pantry, they could come in handy when replacing capers in your meals. Lemons have the same acidity and tanginess as capers, and they go well with chicken piccata. Add a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper to create a bit of bitterness. On the other hand, lemon has high acidity levels. Taste your meal as you add the lemon so it doesn’t become too bitter.
4. Pickles or pickled onions
Although the crunch in pickles is more intense than that of caper, they still make great substitutes in your meals. Pickled red onions are ideal, but you can also use pickled red onions if you don’t mind the color change.
Cut the pickles or onions in caper sizes and substitute in equal amounts.
5. Green peppercorns
Green peppercorns are a great replacement for capers. They are less spicy and intense than black peppercorns. Green peppercorns have balanced flavors that mix well with other ingredients, so they won’t throw off the dish.
When replacing capers, use green peppercorn straight from the jar or go for the pickled kind. You can buy picked green peppercorns or make your own. Check out Kannamma Cooks for a simple recipe for homemade pickled green peppercorns.
Substitute capers with green peppercorn in a 1:1 ratio. For example, if the recipe needs 1 tablespoon of capers, use 1 tablespoon of green peppercorn.
6. Fresh or dried thyme
Although thyme seems like a far-fetched alternative for capers, it has some qualities that make it a great replacement. Thyme has a distinct pungency and a caper-esque bitterness with tones of lemon.
It is possible to use either fresh or dried thyme to replace capers. Dried thyme must be used in a smaller quantity than fresh thyme because it has a deeper flavor that will overbear the dish’s other ingredients when used excessively.
Thyme is a great alternative for capers in slow-cooked dishes or sauces. However, it’s not the best option in dishes where capers are the star.
7. Pickled or marinated artichoke hearts
Artichoke hearts have the same briny taste as capers, making them a good substitute. They have an earthy quality that adds complexity to your recipe.
It is possible to use either pickled or marinated artichoke hearts to replace capers, depending on your preferences. Drain and quarter the artichoke hearts before adding them to chicken, fish, or pasta recipes. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.
Anchovies work surprisingly well as a substitute for capers. They are loaded with salt and umami. With a spritz of lemon, anchovies bring the same briny and lemony taste as capers. However, it’s essential to use anchovies sparingly to avoid giving your dish a deep fishy flavor.
9. Nasturtium seeds
Nasturtium seeds are an uncanny substitute for capers in most meals, thanks to their similar taste. To improve the dish’s taste, pickle the nasturtium seeds with vinegar, garlic, and dill. Store any leftover nasturtium seeds in the fridge until you need them next.
Substitute capers with nasturtium seeds in a 1:1 ratio.
10. Lime juice
Similar to lemons, limes are a good substitute for capers, although they’re more bitter. As such, you should use lime juice sparingly to avoid creating an overly bitter dish.
When following a recipe that calls for capers, simply use an equal amount of freshly-squeezed lime juice instead. Use whole limes or freshly-grated lime peel as a garnish for salads, sandwiches, and fish dishes. Add fresh slices of lime to drinks like margaritas or mojitos for extra flavor without the sodium of capers.
Vinegar is a substitute for capers that should be saved for last when you run out of all the other options. Vinegar adds the tangy taste of capers to your dishes, but it has significantly more acidity and no lemony flavor. So it’s a good idea to adjust the flavor of vinegar by adding seasonings.
Use white wine or champagne vinegar as your substitute for the same amount of capers in the recipe. To balance out the sharpness of the vinegar, add a pinch of sugar to replicate the mild, briny flavor of capers. For an even more complex flavor profile, add fresh herbs like thyme or parsley.
12. Red or white wine
Red or white wine is a good substitute for capers since it has a fruity, acidic flavor. However, it does not have hints of brine or lemon.
Use a ratio of one part red or white wine for every two parts of caper brine. Heat the mixture over low heat until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Add the reduced wine mixture to sauces, dressings, marinades, or other recipes in place of the original caper brine.
Learn more information about capers and its substitutes.
What’s the difference between caper berries and non-pareil capers?
Capers are small edible flower buds from a Mediterranean bush called Capparis Spinosa. They are generally pickled in brine or vinegar. The two main varieties of capers are the non-pareil caper and the caper berry. Non-pareil capers are the smallest variety, measuring only around 2-3mm in diameter. They have a tangy, acidic flavor and are typically used as a seasoning for many dishes like sauces, salads, and fish. Caper berries, on the other hand, are about three times larger than non-pareil capers and measure around 6mm in diameter. Unlike non-pareil capers which usually come pickled, most caper berries can be eaten whole because of their larger size and softer texture. They have a milder flavor than non-pareil capers, ideal for salads or simply served as an appetizer with cheese or olives.
What is the best substitute for capers in chicken picatta?
The best substitute for capers in chicken piccata is green olives, thanks to their similar color, saltiness, and flavor.
Do you need to store capers in the fridge?
Yes, it’s best to store caper berries in the refrigerator after opening. They will remain fresh for up to two weeks if kept in an airtight container. For longer storage, freeze them for up to six months.
What can I substitute for capers with salmon?
When it comes to salmon, there are many great substitutes for capers, such as olives, anchovies, pickles, or caperberries.
If you love Mediterranean recipes, you know how important it is to have capers in your kitchen. However, if you’ve run out of capers, you can use different alternatives, such as nasturtium seeds, green olives, and green peppercorns. Use these substitutes in moderation because they will alter the taste of your recipes.