Capers are the flowers of the caper bush while they are in their unopened state. They are great for adding a salty, briny, and slightly spicy flavor to some foods. If you are out of them or don’t like how they taste, you have some options. Here are some of the better substitutes for capers:
Your best bet: Nasturtium seeds
If your priority is flavor, the best caper substitutes are nasturtium seeds. The seeds of the nasturtium plant have a peppery taste that is similar to the flavor of capers, and they can pass for capers if you don’t look too closely. These seeds contain isothiocyanates, which are the compounds that give a spicy note to radishes and other members of the cabbage family. That said, they will only really taste like capers if you pickle them the same way that capers are pickled. Soak them with some black peppercorns and in a vinegar brine to achieve a caper-like flavor profile.
The downside of using nasturtium seeds as a caper alternative is the fact that they are not the easiest item to find. You may be able to get some from a florist, or you can try growing the nasturtium plants yourself.
A decent second choice: Olives
Both green and black olives make great substitutes for capers. Olives are brined, which makes them salty like capers. Green olives are a slightly better substitute if you are using capers primarily for their flavor. You will want to use the ones that still have their stones. They offer an intense burst of bitterness and flavor that can stand in for the caper taste. You can add a small amount of vinegar to your recipe along with some oil and salt to better mimic the taste of capers.
Black olives have been allowed to ripen and are not quite as bitter or strongly flavored. They are a great option if you are not a fan of capers and want to replace their taste in your recipe. Their mellower flavor still serves as a caper alternative, but their main benefit will be their mouthfeel.
Whole olives are not an ideal caper replacement. You will need to chop them to get something that looks like capers.
In a pinch: Green peppercorns
Of all the substitutes for capers, green peppercorns are arguably the ones that most closely resemble capers. They are green and roundish like capers and have a mild spicy bite, but they are nowhere near as hot as black peppercorns. Green peppercorns are also often brined, which makes them look and taste like capers since they take on a similar dull green color and saltiness.
The downside of green peppercorns is that while they have some of the flavor characteristics of capers, they don’t taste exactly like them. As a result, they are a better option if you don’t like the caper flavor but want something with a similar appearance and mouthfeel.
Nasturtium buds are another way to get the caper flavor. They taste like the seeds but are much harder to find. You will have to brine them just as you would capers.
Fresh thyme looks nothing like capers, so it’s not a good substitute for looks or mouthfeel; however, it can provide a similar flavor to dishes.
Dill pickles get a lot of their brine’s flavor, which is why they can offer a bright salty taste to food that is a decent substitute for the flavor of capers. Like olives, dill pickles make a better substitute when they are chopped into small pieces.