Generally speaking, capers are the berries of a Mediterranean shrub called Capparis spinosa. They’re usually preserved in water and salt brine or in a mixture of brine and vinegar. Due to their intense flavor, people use capers to enhance the taste of their favorite recipes. That’s why you will see capers used for eggs, salads, sauces, and even meat dishes.
However, you can run out of capers pretty quickly, especially since you can use them for so many dishes. Luckily, with so many possible replacements, it is extremely easy to find a delicious and effective substitute for capers. Intrigued? Then let’s check them out!
1. Green Olives
Green olives are salty, bitter, and acidic, which makes them a perfect substitute for capers. You can use them for sauces, casseroles, chicken piccata, salads, and any other dish that involves capers. And since even their color is similar to that of capers, you don’t have to worry about them changing the color of your dish.
Keep in mind that olives are bigger than capers, meaning that it is better to substitute them in a one-to-two ratio. Also, instead of adding them to your dish as they are, you might want to first cut the olives into smaller pieces. Why? Because that way, you will be able to hide your secret substitutions, as they will look almost identical to capers.
1 Tbsp Capers = ½ Tbsp Chopped Green Olives
2. Black Olives
The difference between green and black olives is that the latter have spent longer on the tree. Therefore, their flavor is less intense and their texture is much softer than that of green olives. Yet, they can still be a reliable substitute for capers due to their bitter and salty flavor. Just make sure to buy high-quality olives from your local delicatessen in order to get the best results.
However, like with green olives, you’ll have to cut them into smaller pieces first, as they are able to substitute for capers in a one-to-two ratio.
1 Tbsp Capers = ½ Tbsp Chopped Black Olives
Thyme is a heavily pungent herb that has a strong and bitter taste, similar to that of capers. Thanks to its subtle notes of lemon, thyme can enhance the flavor of any dish and can act as a replacement for capers.
It’s important that you add thyme during the early stages of cooking. That way, you ensure that its flavor and fragrance are fully absorbed and blended with the other ingredients in your dish. And even though some people prefer fresh thyme, it won’t work in dishes that use capers as a main ingredient. Instead, you should use dry or ground thyme, as it is much more flavorful, effective, and reliable.
When you substitute capers with thyme, you can use a one-to-one ratio. And while you can only use thyme stems, you can also add its leaves to your recipes to bring an even more intense flavor to your dish.
1 Tbsp Capers = 1 Tbsp Thyme
4. Green Peppercorns
Green peppercorns are the unripe version of black peppercorns. Since they have been harvested earlier, they are less spicy and more subtle than their black counterparts. As a result, you can use them to replace capers without the fear of throwing your dish out of balance. And best of all, green peppercorns look almost identical to capers, so nobody will notice the substitute.
If you plan to substitute green peppercorns for capers, you can use them directly from the jar in a one-to-one ratio. However, you can also pickle your own peppercorns in water, lemon, and salt to give them a more robust flavor profile.
1 Tbsp Capers = 1 Tbsp Green Peppercorns
5. Nasturtium Buds
Nasturtium is an edible flower that has a peppery taste and can greatly enhance the flavor of any dish. You can find this plant at most gardening stores or at some specialist food sellers’ stock. But if you want to have a continuous supply of nasturtium, you can always plant them in your garden. That way, you’ll have access to its seeds and buds whenever they are in season.
The secret to using nasturtium is to pick the buds while they are green and young. Then, pickle them for about a week using vinegar, dill, onion, and garlic. You can also add some garlic and peppercorns to further enhance their natural flavor. Once they are done, you can replace capers with your pickled nasturtium buds in a one-to-one ratio.
1 Tbsp Capers = 1 Tbsp Nasturtium Buds
Dill pickles offer a sour and sweet experience in a single crunchy and delicious bite. And while their texture and flavor profile is a bit different from that of capers, most chefs recommend them as a valid substitute for capers.
If you don’t mind the intense taste of pickles, you can cut them into caper-sized pieces and use them in a one-to-one ratio. Alternatively, you can also use other pickled vegetables like red onions as they offer the same vinegary flavor but in a beautiful pink package.
1 Tbsp Capers = 1 Pickle Slice
Caperberries are the result of letting Mediterranean flower buds grow instead of turning them into capers. Even though they are bigger and milder in taste, caperberries are a great replacement for capers. In fact, they are best used in dishes that already have overpowering ingredients with intense flavors.
Since caper berries have a similar size to that of olives, you’ll have to substitute them for capers in a one-to-two ratio.
1 Tbsp Capers = ½ Tbsp Caperberries
Lastly, while it might sound strange, you can use anchovies as a substitute for capers. Why? Because they are loaded with umami and salt, which can bring a similar taste to that of capers to most recipes. And, if you feel like they aren’t flavorful enough, you can also add a bit of lemon.
When it comes to ratios, you’ll have to do a bit of experimenting. However, more often than not, one anchovy is enough to replace a couple of capers. But remember not to add too much, as you can end up turning your favorite dish into a fish-flavored disaster.
1 Tbsp Capers = ¼ Tbsp Anchovies