Capers provide a burst of salty, tangy flavor to dishes. Sauces, pasta puttanesca, salmon, chicken piccata, and bagels all combine well with capers. There are two main reasons you may be looking for a substitute for capers in your next dish:
- The taste doesn't appeal.
- No capers are available.
In this article, we'll provide a selection of alternatives to capers that'll help you finish that recipe. You'll need to keep an open mind with these options; they are a unique tasting ingredient that you'll never replace 100%.
What are capers?
Capers are small fruit, produced by a thorny plant known as Capparis Spinosa. Harvested before ripening, they vary in size from half a pea through to olive-sized. The larger variety is a caperberry which has been allowed to mature.
8 replacements for capers
1. Green olives
Recommended option if you enjoy capers but don’t have any in the kitchen.
Green olives are an excellent alternative to capers as they share similar salty, bitter flavor profiles. You can use them in chicken piccata, casseroles, sauces, and salads.
Their color is also similar. Slice the olives into small pieces, and they can take the place of capers as a garnish on salmon or featured in beef tartare.
2. Black Olives
Recommended option if you enjoy capers and don't have any green ones.
Black olives have spent longer on the tree before being picked, resulting in a softer, less intense flavored fruit. They will provide your dish with a much less intense burst of salty, bitter taste. To get the best possible flavor, buy olives from your local delicatessen for a better quality product.
3. Nasturtium Buds
Recommended option for the creative home cook.
The nasturtium is an edible flower that can be used as a backup plan when capers aren't to your liking. Rather than going for a bitter taste, choose nasturtium for a robust peppery flavor.
You can buy this plant from gardening stores, and some specialist food sellers stock it too. A better option may be to grow nasturtium seeds at home. You'll have access to the buds whenever they're in season.
The secret to using nasturtium is to pick the buds while they're still young and green. Pop them into a small jar of vinegar, onion, dill, and garlic until you need to use them. When it comes time to cook, remember that the nasturtium flower makes an impressive-looking garnish.
If you'd like to get loads more ideas for edible flowers, be sure to check out this guide on the best edible flowers.
4. Fresh thyme
Recommended option for the herb lover.
Fresh thyme is a pungent herb that carries a strong lemon and bitter taste, similar to capers. If it is slow-cooked in a casserole or sauce, thyme will impart a comparable flavor. Fresh thyme won't work in recipes where capers play a leading role in the dish. Beef tartare is one example.
5. Green peppercorns
Recommended option for visual impact.
Green peppercorns are the unripe version of a black peppercorn. Because they've been harvested early, you'll avoid the extreme spiciness associated with black peppercorns.
Choosing green peppercorns as a caper substitute is a good option if you're trying to mimic the visual appearance of capers. They both look similar, and the taste of these mild peppercorns won't throw your dish out of balance.
6. Dill pickles
Recommended option for tartar sauce, salads and antipasto platters.
Dill pickles, or cornichons, offer a combination of sweet and sour in one crunchy bite. They are a tasty addition when sliced up and added to tartar sauce, pasta salads, or on the antipasto platter. The flavor profile of dill pickle is different from capers as their texture is crisper, and they lack the intense bitter taste.
Recommended option for adding salty flavor to slow cooked meals.
The caper and anchovy taste miles apart. But that doesn't mean you can't use anchovies for a boost of umami and saltiness in your next casserole. Unless you enjoy a fishy flavor, don't add too many. Experiment with ratios, but generally, one anchovy is enough. They are also an excellent addition to Italian pasta sauces.
Do you know the difference between anchovies and sardines? Find out here!
Recommended option for a milder flavor.
Pickled caperberries are bigger than capers and contain seeds. They have a much less intense flavor, which makes them a suitable alternative if you don't like overpowering ingredients.
Popular recipes using capers and their recommended substitutes
|Salmon garnish||Chopped olives or green peppercorns|
|Piccata||Fresh thyme or green olives|
|Tartar sauce||Dill pickle|
|Beef tartare||Chopped olives or dill pickle|
Infographic: 8 caper substitutes
Finding brined capers substitute isn't a big challenge. There are plenty of good alternatives in your local supermarket. If you enjoy the taste of capers but don't have any, your best option in most recipes will be green olives. They're versatile enough to be slow-cooked and can be diced then used as a garnish uncooked.
If you don't enjoy capers and are looking for substitutes to replace them in your recipe, consider thyme, green peppercorn, or dill pickles.
It's important to remember that the backup options we've provided will not perfectly imitate capers. Most will give a less pungent flavor except anchovies. If you decide to use them in a casserole, be sparing as one will usually be enough.
Do you have a useful alternative to replace capers? Let us know in the comments below.