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The floral Mediterranean virtues of the caper, a treasure born among the rocks

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

It might be a bit presumptuous to travel just to see with one's own eyes the blossoming of one of the most iconic plants of the Mediterranean, the caper. But after all, why not enjoy this treasure if we are already there, if we see them peeking out from the balconies and fields surrounding towns and villages?


Capparis spinosa, a shrubby plant that grows wild in arid and stony places, on cliffs or dry stone walls exposed to the sun. There are two parts that can be tasted: the still closed flower buds, called capers, and the fruits, called cocunces. Capers have an aromatic, salty flavour, due to the salting they undergo during storage. In contrast, cocunces are sweeter and fleshier and are preserved in vinegar or oil.


The caper plant is native to the area between North Africa and the Middle East, but is now widespread throughout the Mediterranean basin thanks to its resistance to the hot, dry climate. We find it in dry stone walls in Sicily, where the capers of Pantelleria and the Aeolian Islands are famous, but also in barren Sardinia, sunny Apulia, colourful and mountainous Liguria, and florid and volcanic Campania.


What we eat today was once also a medicine. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to season dishes and to cure various ailments such as inflammations and skin irritations. If today it is used for digestion and seen more as an antioxidant, it was once a natural aphrodisiac, sometimes even a remedy for melancholy.

In the kitchen, thanks to its versatility, it can give flavour and aroma to many dishes.


Indispensable for salsa verde, salsa puttanesca or salsa tonnata. Marine as it is, it goes well with fish, but also with meat and cheese. It plays a starring role in Sicilian caponata, veal in tuna sauce and swordfish alla ghiotta.


Why not go and discover directly where this extraordinary plant is born? Why not enjoy the unique experience of picking capers with your own hands and savouring them freshly picked? Why not admire its white flowers with purple stamens that bloom at dawn?

Travelling and discovering capers means coming into contact with a wild and fascinating nature, with a thousand-year-old tradition and with a rich and varied gastronomy. Finally, it means enriching one's cultural baggage and palate with a plant that encapsulates the flavour and scent of the sea.


Have you ever picked the flower of a caper with your own hands? In which sauce do you think it is the must-have ingredient to make the dish unique and recognisable?


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