Capers are known to elevate dishes into a higher level, and brighten their color – from antipasti to eggs – in particular, when served with fish in tartar sauce.
They leave tangy, salty, bitter, and sour notes, and are highly acidic. Capers can keep their flavor for months, as long as they remain submerged in brine.
Now, if you need capers in a recipe, but you’re out of the ingredient or you just need a more suitable and healthier alternative (because you’ve exceeded your quercetin quota), there are many caper alternatives you can use.
- Green Olives
- Black Olives
- Kalamata Olives
- Nasturtium Buds
- Fresh Thyme
- Green Peppercorns
- Dill Pickles
Every single one of the alternatives offered in this post brings a unique flavor to the dish, so you need to know what you want the substitute ingredient to add to your dish. This way, you can make the best substitution.
16 Best Substitute For Caper
Capers come from Capparis Spinosa, the thorny Mediterranean shrub. They are the tiny green flower buds usually preserved in water brine or pickled using a vinegar solution.
You can also cure them in salt. When preserved in salt, make sure to rinse before you use them in a recipe.
Aside from being healthy when consumed in the right amounts, capers pack quite a flavor packed in a small size. They brighten up the taste of many dishes – sauces, salads, chicken piccata, fish dishes, and pasta puttanesca. However, some people may find the flavor they bring a bit too sharp.
If you enjoy having capers in your dish, but unfortunately don’t have some in your kitchen, one of the better and perhaps more accessible alternatives, are green olives.
Similar to capers, green olives offer a similar bitter and salty flavor profile, making them an ideal substitute.
You can make the substitution in dishes like casseroles, chicken piccata, salads, and sauces. The colors of the two ingredients are also similar. To make the substitution, slice the green olives in small pieces first before using.
Now, if you have decided to substitute capers with olives, but you don’t have any green ones available, black olives will be a good alternative. Because black olives spent a longer time on the tree before being harvested, they are softer, and have a less intense flavor.
When used as a substitute for capers, black olives will give your dish a bit less of the intense salty and bitter burst. To achieve the best flavor possible, use high quality olives bought from the local deli.
Kalamata olives are another decent caper substitute from the family of olives. Similar to the green variety, kalamata olives are oily, acidic, and savory in flavor, which most people appreciate in their food.
This type of olives have a darker green color, and can also alter your food’s color. To substitute for capers, chop the kalamata olives to the preferred size you want to use in your dish.
The substitution ratio will depend on the size of the available olives. The rule of thumb is two capers for every regular sized kalamata olive.
If you want to be a bit creative in your substitution, you may use nasturtium buds. The edible flower bud offers a good alternative if you are not particularly fond of capers’ bitter flavor.
Nasturtium brings a robust peppery flavor to your dish. You can buy nasturtium from specialist food stores, as well as from gardening stores. Because of its limited availability, you may want to grow some at home. This way, you can have some anytime – as long as they’re in season.
The key to using this alternative is to use the buds while still green and young, then pop them into a small jar containing a mix of onion, garlic, dill, and vinegar, and store the mix until it’s time to use. Nasturtium flower, on its own is an excellent-looking garnish.
If you love herbs, then fresh thyme can be a good stand-in for capers, as it also has some bitterness, and a lemony flavor.
However, because the substitution will result to a more pungent-tasting dish, you must not add too much fresh thyme.
If you prefer to use dried instead of fresh thyme, use a little less amount of the ingredient as thyme’s flavor becomes more intense when dried.
As a replacement for capers, fresh thyme is best used in cooked dishes where the main ingredient is not capers.
If you are after visual impact in your dish, then green peppercorns would be a nice option. A somewhat unique black peppercorn version, the green variety is the product of early harvesting. This results to losing the extreme spiciness that black peppercorns are known for.
As a caper replacement, green peppercorns are great if you want your dish to retain the same appearance when using capers. After all, the looks are almost similar. The best part is the mild flavored peppercorns will not compromise the taste of the dish.
If you’re preparing salads, antipasto, or tartar sauce, and you’re out of capers, then dill pickles can come to your rescue. Also known as cornichons, dill pickles bring out a sweet and sour taste combination in a single bite.
When sliced, dill pickles are a scrumptious addition to pasta salads, tartar sauce, or antipasto. It offers a different flavor profile to capers, and they have a crisper texture. Dill pickles also don’t have the intensely bitter taste of capers.
As a caper substitute, a squeeze of lemon ads a nice acidic finishing touch to your dish or salad dressing. Adding a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper will help achieve a slightly bitter taste with some bite.
To substitute for caper, the quantity of lemon to add will depend on your taste. In most cases, just a light squeeze over your dish is enough to do the trick.
When using lime in place of capers, you can use the substitute the same way as you would use lemon juice. However, the taste might be slightly different. Compared to capers, lime is a tad more biter.
Depending on the recipe you’re preparing, you can use the lime’s pulp, but make sure that the seeds will not find their way into your food. To achieve the same level of acidity from capers, use lime liberally. Taste as you add to make sure that you are not overpowering your dish.
Finely Chopped Pickled Onions
When pickled, onions acquire an astringent flavor and provide a potent pop of vinegar. You can use finely chopped pickled onions as a substitute for capers in various recipes.
To substitute, cut the pickles into smaller pieces before using in place of capers. Use the 1:1 substitution ratio. You may prefer to use a smaller amount of pickled onions, depending on your preferred taste.
If you are preparing a slow cooked meal, and you want to add a bit of salty flavor, you may use anchovies. Yes, you can replace capers with anchovies! Well, obviously, anchovies and capers are different in many ways. But, you will be both surprised and impressed when you start replacing capers in practically all your recipes.
The only thing you need to remember when using the thin fish as a substitute is that you need to use a considerably less amount of anchovies than capers. This is because the fish is quite salty, oily, and comes with an extreme fish flavor.
The amount of anchovies to use will depend on the flavor you want for your food including salads, sauces, and cooked dishes. Likewise, you cannot achieve the texture that capers provide because anchovies tend to melt when cooked.
If you’re looking for caper alternatives and you only have artichoke hearts in your pantry, then you’re in luck! The ingredient will be an able substitute in many dishes. You’re also lucky to have artichoke hearts on hand because they’re not easily found in all stores.
You can marinate or pickle artichoke hearts, depending on your available supply. Just make sure to drain and cut the veggies into the right size before use. To use as substitute for capers, add artichoke hearts, depending on the taste you want to achieve.
If you’re not a fan of pickled options, then maybe you will enjoy your classic dishes with a slight twist. You can use mustard greens in lieu of capers to achieve a piquant, peppery flavor.
Just make sure that the mustard greens are sautéed first with some salt. This will help mimic the caper flavor in your dish.
If you prefer a milder flavor, then use caperberries instead of capers. Don’t be confused as the two are not the same, although they are both from the caper bush. Capers are the bush’s unopened buds, while caperberries are the fruits.
Pickled caperberries are bigger in size and have seeds. Their flavor is much less intense compared to capers. This makes a great substitute for people who like to preserve the flavor in their dishes.
When you’re desperate to find a caper alternative, look no further than your good old vinegar. Sure, you will get much more acidity with no lemony flavor from vinegar, but it would be a decent substitute, nonetheless.
To use vinegar as a substitute for capers, add the same amount as you would lime or lemon juice. Just keep in mind that the flavor will be different.
Vinegar offers an acidic and bitter taste, regardless of the recipe you’re preparing – from salads to cooked dishes.
Red or White Wine
If you want to be a little adventurous in your substitution, why don’t you try adding white or red wine into your recipe in lieu of capers? Wine will not give you the same flavor you get from capers. Instead, you will get fruity and acidic notes in your dish, and some people will enjoy that.
Bear in mind that red or white wine contains alcohol. Thus, you may want to refrain from serving the dish to children or people who don’t want alcohol in their food.