I love capers. Did you know that capers grow in Croatia? Where can you find them? What should you do with capers? What are the superpowers of capers?
- Capers grow along the Croatian coastline
- Capers prefer sunny locations, preferably old walls
- Capers can be stored in salt or pickled
- Capers may prevent cancer
Could capers be your authentic souvenir from Croatia? They most certainly can. But how to find them?
Capers Grow Along The Croatian Coastline
Capers love sunshine. Capers love limestone. Croatia is all about sunshine and limestone.
Croatian islands are a paradise for capers. One of them, the island of Kaprije (near Šibenik) was even named after capers. Ancient Croatian tows are home of capers, too. In places like Cavtat in the south, then Dubrovnik, Korčula, Hvar, Vis, Split, Trogir and elsewhere you will find these beautiful flowers. And you guess it. They’re capers!
Capers Prefer Sunny Locations, Preferably Old Walls
I grew up in Cavtat, a picturesque town to the south of Dubrovnik. Our family home is a 200-year-old house in the old part of Cavtat. Even before I was born, a caper bush has been growing from the wall. And we have always harvested its buds and pickled them. BTW, you can take a look at that caper bush in a photo gallery of the apartment we rent in Cavtat.
Our wall is probably as old as the house. Made of rough limestone blocks. The mortar in the crevices consists of lime and sand. (There are still ancient cast iron nails stuck in the crevices).
Capers apparently love it there. Growing from the crevices where there is no soil. None whatsoever. Somehow, the capers thrive there.
Capers grow with ease from the walls. However, planting capers is extremely difficult.
Come have successfully grown capers by planting the seeds into a dried fig, and then inserting the fig into the wall rich in lime.
Capers Can Be Stored In Salt Or Pickled
I usually “visit” caper bushes growing from the walls of the streets descending to Dubrovnik Old City. I would find them almost in every street. They are especially numerous in the streets around the Hilton Imperial Hotel.
Never did I have any problem with the householders. It seems that many consider them as weeds, so they don’t care. Some don’t bother about picking them themselves.
Generally speaking, when growing outside of designated gardens and private courtyards, simply on the street, caper bushes are seen as “public property”. At least I think of them as “everybody’s.
Still, it may always be in place to just ask for a permission. Better safe than sorry. (Again, I have never had any problems with the “owners”. Quite the contrary, they seem to be content that somebody is doing something useful and traditional.)
Also, be prepared to get many questions from curious tourists. Of course, by the time you read this entire article, you will have been an expert.
What Should I Pick?
You should pick unopened buds. The smaller, the better. Have a plastic bag at hand. Or a hat. Or a bottle. Or a pocket.
Sometimes they are covered in kind of a mildew. Don’t worry. You just wash it down. The caper bush occasionally seems to excrete a sugary substance to attract insects that facilitate pollination.
Apart from the buds, you can also go for young seed pods. They look like small cucumbers.
Visit the same caper bush one or twice a week. The more you pick, the more they grow.
Store the capers in a jar. Or simply in a plastic bottle. A layer of capers. A layer of salt. Any salt will do. As simple as that. Just keep adding more layers.
You may or may not keep them refrigerated.
A more common recipe is the one using vinegar. However, my favourite are salted capers.
After a month or so, they will develop their particular flavor. They are rather tasteless when fresh.
Salted capers are my favourite. We add them to roasted meat, fish and tomato sauce. (more on Croatian cuisine you can read in this article of mine)
They are a delicious addition to a home-made tuna spread.
Put a can of tuna, some butter, mayonnaise, mustard, pitted green olives, capers and olive oil into a blender. And press the button! Bon appetit!
Capers May Prevent Cancer
Capers posses a host of health benefits.
Traditional Use Of Capers As Medicine
Capers have a long history of medical use. The Ancient Greeks used them to alleviate inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism.
Since capers are basically flower buds, they are low in calories. However, they are rich in phytonutrients. Capers contain a high proportion of the powerful antioxidant flavonoids, rutin and quercetin.
In addition to antioxidant properties, quercetin has also showed antibacterial, anticancer, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
Rutin strengthens capillaries, inhibits the accumulation of plaque in blood vessels and thus helps the health of the bloodstream. It is used on an experimental basis in the treatment of hemorrhoids, varicose veins and hemophilia. Studies have found that it reduces LDL cholesterol in obese individuals.
Consumption of pickled capers stimulates the activity of the digestive system because it increases appetite, relieves stomach and intestinal problems. Furthermore, capers are a source of fiber, thus also contributing to the health of digestion.
The addition of a small amount of capers to grilled meat prevents the formation of substances that damage DNA and can potentially cause cancer and diseases of the cardiovascular system. Capers contain isothiocyanates, which are responsible for the pungent taste of capers, and help break down carcinogens in the liver and help reduce the occurrence of several types of cancer. Furthermore, capers prevent fat oxidation in meat during roasting and regenerate vitamin E.
Are There Any Scientific Proof Of Capers’ Medicinal Properties?
Modern researchers have come to some exciting discoveries about capers.
“The quercetin in Capparis spinosa extract had significant anti-tumor effects and may be regarded as an ideal natural drug for cancer therapy.” (Moghadamnia Y, Mousavi Kani SN, Ghasemi-Kasman M, Kazemi Kani MT, Kazemi S. The Anti-cancer Effects of Capparis spinosa Hydroalcoholic Extract. Avicenna J Med Biotechnol. 2019;11(1):43-47.)
Another study was focused on caper seeds (the ones that come in cucumber-like pods). Apparently, there is a protein in them that contains antiproliferative properties (stops cancer cells from spreading). It’s also antifungal. However , that protein also prevents the copying of HIV-1 virus. In other words, it inhibits the virus’ reverse transcriptase process. (Interestingly, some COVID-19 vaccines seem to be aiming the same thing!)
And finally, to award you to sticking to the end of this article, one of my favourite photos. It was taken in Trogir, Croatia, where I work as a tour guide. FYI, I have designed a special tour that takes you into the hidden gardens of Trogir.