Green peppercorns and capers are often recommended as substitutes for each other. In theory, this makes sense since they both have some important similarities; however, they have some big differences as well. If you are trying to decide which to use or whether to use one as a substitute for the other, it is a good idea to find out about their respective characteristics and whether substitution is a good idea. In the SPICEography Showdown below, we will examine how green peppercorns and capers compare to each other.
How do green peppercorns differ from capers in terms of flavor?
Green peppercorns come from the same Piper nigrum plant that provides black and white peppercorns. They are simply peppercorns that have been harvested before they ripen, just like black peppercorns. While they can be freeze-dried or air dried, the most common way to preserve them is in a brine. The flavor of green peppercorns is similar to that of black peppercorns but milder. They have the same piney notes with a herbaceous quality and slight bitterness, but much less of those flavors and much less heat as well. Brined peppercorns will also be salty because of the brine.
Capers come from an entirely different plant. The source of capers is the caper bush, also known as Capparis spinosa. They are actually the unopened flower buds from the plant rather than a fruit like peppercorns. Capers are usually preserved in a salt brine or in vinegar, much like green peppercorns.
Capers are extremely bitter when fresh, but brining or pickling can make them palatable. Along with taking on the flavor of the brine, they become lemony and tangy. Because of the similar preservation methods, green peppercorns and capers do have a passing similarity in texture and flavor. In a salt brine or vinegar, they will be both be tangy. However, capers are simply tangy or salty, they do not have the peppery flavor notes or mild heat that green peppercorns will provide.
Can you use green peppercorns as a substitute for capers and vice versa?
Both green peppercorns and capers can have the flavor or tang of the liquid used to preserve them, which means that they have some of the same flavor notes and can thus be used in the same ways.
In addition to the similarities in taste, there are also similarities in texture and appearance. Both have a softness with a mild snappy crunch. They are both the same color and roughly the same size, which means that green peppercorns and capers will look similar in a dish.
It is important to note that while they can have similar flavor notes, they do not taste exactly alike; in fact, many might argue that they do not taste anything alike. Their flavors can work in the same savory dishes, but will still provide different final products.
When should you use green peppercorns and when should you use capers?
Use green peppercorns in a cream sauce for steak or in a paté. You can also add them to a Thai curry or stir fry, which are just a couple of the ways that they are used in Asian cuisine. Traditional uses of capers include in a remoulade sauce. You can add them to a salad or pair them with smoked salmon. If you are making a tartar sauce or spaghetti alla puttanesca, capers are essential.