What to Do with Caper Berries and Caper Leaves

The short answer: Add them to any dish that needs a pop of bright, briny flavor.

Published Apr. 25, 2022.

Adding capers to a dish is one of the easiest, fastest ways to dial up both the acidity and salt level. The most you’ll ever need to do is rinse them and mince them. I usually skip those steps entirely, opting instead to simply scoop them out of their brine and toss them straight into whatever I’m making.

I authored our review of the best capers, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about (and eating) capers. But my colleague, ATK Reviews Executive Editor Hannah Crowley, recently made me realize I’d been missing out on some truly spectacular parts of the caper shrub. 

First, she raved about the stellar pizza at Pizzeria Ida in her town of Burlington, Vermont. One of their toppings? Caper berries.

Second, she told me about the caper leaves she’d bought and started putting on all sorts of dishes.

I recognized caper berries from the olive bar at my local Whole Foods Market but I’d never had much use for them. And I didn’t even know that you could eat caper leaves! I promptly bought two jars of each and started experimenting.

What are caper berries and caper leaves?

Caper berries are the fruit of the shrub formed by capers. They are essentially supersize, supercharged capers, but they're crunchy because they’re filled with small seeds. They’re assertive. If you love capers, you’ll love caper berries. They can be eaten whole or sliced before use. 

Caper leaves are another part of the caper plant. They're flat and roughly circular but end in a point.

Are capers and caper berries the same thing?

Capers and caper berries come from the same plant, but they are not the same things. Capers are flower buds that, when left on the shrub, produce white and purple flowers. The flowers contain stigmas that transform into caper berries.

What do caper berries taste like?

Caper berries are assertive. If you love capers, you’ll love caper berries. When eaten whole, caper berries are more assertively tangy and briny than a single caper. Because caper berries are filled with small seeds that crunch when you bite them, they add considerable texture in addition to brightening up the flavor of a dish. They can be eaten whole or sliced before use.

What do caper leaves taste like?

The flavor of caper leaves is milder than caper berries. While capers and caper berries scream salt and acidity, caper leaves whisper it. If you think that capers overpower a dish or are simply in the mood for something more delicate, leaves are a really elegant option.

Caper leaves can be packaged in vinegar-and-salt brines or in olive oil. We like both, but there are some flavor differences between the two. The leaves in brine are slightly tarter. Because the olive oil clings to the leaves, we recommend rinsing the leaves under running water or patting them with a paper towel if you’re planning to use them in a dish with other oily ingredients, such as pizza.

How to Use Caper Berries and Caper Leaves

Ready to try them for yourself? Here’s an incomplete list of the ways I used (or plan to use) caper berries and caper leaves.

  • On a bagel or tartine. Either whole or sliced into a chiffonade, caper leaves are a great addition to a bagel. They’re more mild than the capers that typically go on a loaded bagel, and sliced leaves are especially subtle.
caper leaves on toast
Whether on a bagel or toast, caper leaves are a beautiful addition to cream cheese, smoked salmon, and lemon zest.
  • On pizza. The brininess of caper leaves and caper berries cut the richness of cheese, pepperoni, and other go-to pizza toppings. You can add them before or after the pizza bakes. Unless the caper berries are very small, slice them first.
  • On a charcuterie or cheese board. Meats and cheeses taste best when they’re served with contrasting textures and flavors. A caper leaf would be really elegant atop pâté on a cracker or piece of bread. Munch on a caper berry or two in between bites of soft, gooey cheeses. 
  • In a sandwich. Capers play a big role in a New Orleans-style muffaletta and Provence’s pan bagnat. Try using caper leaves or caper berries instead, or slide either one into a simple turkey or ham sandwich.
  • On deviled eggs. For stirring into deviled eggs, we recommend sticking with capers. But if you want to zhuzh up your presentation, top the filled eggs with small caper leaves.
  • In cocktails. Caper berries are about the same size as an olive and similarly tart and briny. Add one to a martini or a Blood Mary. Drop one into a gin and tonic along with a squeeze of lime. Or do as I did and add a caper berry to an aperol spritz!
Move over, olives! A caper berry is a perfect cocktail garnish—and the stem makes it easy to fish out of your drink when you’re ready to snack on it.
Photo credit: Westend61, Getty Images

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