Health Benefits of Capers

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on August 23, 2022
3 min read

Capers may be some of the smallest ingredients in your favorite dinner entrees, but they shouldn't be underestimated. These tiny morsels are more powerful than they appear, in terms of both flavor and nutritional benefits.

An essential ingredient in chicken piccata and smoked salmon dip, capers have a lemony and salty taste that make them appealing even to picky eaters. Their flavors vary somewhat depending on how they're packaged, with many varieties featuring a briny taste. 

As immature flowers of the caper bush, the capers used in cooking are associated with Mediterranean dishes but grown everywhere from Morocco to Australia. They have a long culinary history and are even referenced in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh as far back as 2000 BC.

Capers should not be confused with the caperberry, which, while grown from the same plant, is larger and may contain seeds. If capers are not picked as immature buds, they eventually grow into caperberries. 

Capers enhance flavor without adding significant amounts of calories, fat, or sugar. This makes them an excellent option for people looking to cut calories but still enjoy tasty dishes. Beyond their flavorful and low calorie nature, capers provide a variety of health benefits. Long respected in folk medicine, capers are now prized among food among food scientists for their anti-inflammatory properties. 

Other health benefits associated with capers include:

Cancer prevention

When combined with poultry or red meat, capers may help limit the creation of harmful byproducts that have been linked to cell damage and an increased risk of cancer. This health benefit applies even with small amounts of capers. As such, capers are especially beneficial for people who eat diets high in red meat or other sources of saturated fat.

Reduced Risk of Cardiac Arrhythmia

Pickled capers pack high doses of the bioflavonoid quercetin, which plays an important role in the functioning of the KCNQ gene family's potassium ion channels. If dysfunctional, these channels increase the likelihood of someone developing several dangerous health conditions, including arrhythmia of the heart. The quercetin found in capers may trick KCNQ channels into opening, thereby promoting healthier heart activity. 

Alzheimer's Disease Prevention

People who regularly consume flavonols such as quercetin are less likely to develop Alzheimer's. This reduced risk may result from natural antioxidants and the anti-inflammatory properties of these flavanols, which limit cellular damage.

Capers contain a variety of antioxidants, which play an important role in limiting oxidative stress and may even help to reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer.

Capers are also a source of:

Nutrients per Serving

When drained, one tablespoon of capers contains:

Things to Watch For

Depending on how they are prepared and stored, capers can be a major source of sodium. For this reason, they are best enjoyed in limited quantities as a source of flavor for nutritious meals.

Capers are available at most supermarkets. They can also be found in a variety of specialty and health food shops. When selecting them, look closely at the packaging to determine their origin and preparation method.

There are several distinct varieties of capers, classified by size and region of origin. The smallest are grown in France and known as “nonpareils.” Spanning less than 1/4 inch, these capers tend to be the most flavorful and the most expensive.

Larger capers, known as “surfines” are among the most common varieties. Sizable capers such as capotes, capucines, fines, and grusas are less common.

After choosing your preferred variety, here are a few simple and delicious ways to include capers in your diet:

  • Enjoy capers with salmon, cream cheese, and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Add with cream cheese, dill, and smoked salmon to create a memorable dip.
  • Sprinkle in creamy scrambled eggs for a burst of flavor.
  • Sauté in a lemon juice and butter sauce to create chicken piccata. 
  • Stuff peppers with capers, black olives, anchovies, and cheese.
  • Include capers with provolone, fontina, and marinara sauce in a grilled Tuscan sandwich.
  • Sprinkle in a healthy tuna salad that also includes Greek yogurt, celery, and lemon.
  • Toss with romaine, radishes, and olive oil in a fresh green salad.
  • Include capers with sausage and olives as a topping on pizza.