Before you ask, yes, some capers really are better than others. And if you lined up eight brands of capers and tasted them (as I did), you, too, would be able to tell the difference. The best capers are firm and tangy and salty. They’re not mushy. And they’re not flavorless.
I always have at least one jar of capers in my fridge. (At time of writing, I think I have three.) They’re my secret weapon for adding flavor if something’s bland. Pasta needs oomph? Handful of capers. Salad boring? Handful of capers. Sheet pan roast lacking complexity? Handful of capers. And, of course, they’re a must-have for bagels and lox. They’re also one of my three-year-old’s favorite snacks (in very small quantities). There’s nothing the best capers can’t do (except maybe go on ice cream, but, honestly, I haven’t tried).
Here are the best capers for cooking, garnishing, or snacking on if you are my toddler.
- Mediterranean Organic Non-Pareil Capers
On the spectrum of mild to face-puckering, these capers are definitely on the mild end. You don’t need to rinse these at all, they come out of the jar with just the right level of saltiness, which makes them perfect for garnishing. You need a more pungent caper if you want to cook with it, but if you’re just looking for the best capers to sprinkle onto some spaghetti or poached salmon or sauteed asparagus, these are the best capers to buy. And their delicate flavor makes them a good gateway for folks who aren’t so sure about capers. “They’re such a good option for people who think capers are too intense,” said managing editor Gwynedd Stuart.
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- Jeff’s Garden Non-Pareil Capers
I love how firm and zesty these capers are. They’re also very, very, very salty. All of that means they’re some of the best capers for cooking. They’ll hold their form and their pungent flavor will shine through in a dish. I particularly think they’d be good in something with lemon like a chicken piccata or cooked into a lemony butter sauce for fish.
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- Trader Joe’s Capers in Vinegar
As far as I know, most caper brines are made with vinegar, but Trader Joe’s calls the vinegar out on the label. And it definitely tastes like there’s more vinegar flavor in the mix. The brine has a deeper, richer flavor. And the capers themselves have a great pop and bright acidity. The added complexity makes these the best brined capers to showcase against silky, fatty smoked salmon (Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Smoked Salmon—some of the best smoked salmon, according to our taste test—would be a perfect option).
- Star Non-Pareil Capers
Star capers are the saltiest of the bunch. If you are using them as a garnish or in a salad dressing, be sure to rinse them first or be slapped in the face by their salty pungency. But leave them as is if you’re using them as capers for cooking. They’ll add salty funkiness to a red sauce, for sure. If you want capers that will stand out in a dish, Star is the best capers brand.
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- Goya Capotes
The top two best capers are very close. Really, you’ll be happy either way. But I particularly love Goya’s brine. It would be so good in a dressing or splashed into a Dirty Martini or added to Bloody Mary mix. It’s tart and pickle-y and rich. Goya capotes capers are also the best capers if you like a slightly bigger, juicier caper with more of a chew. Capotes, by the way, are capers that are between 9-11 mm. Non-pareils (most of the other capers on this list are non-pareils) are less than 7 mm. There are also sufines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), fines (11-13 mm), and grusas (more than 14 mm).
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- Mezzetta Non-Pareil Capers
These capers from Mezzetta (which also makes some of the best green olives) aren’t too tangy or salty or even too firm. They’re middle of the road but in the best way—Goldilocks’ ideal capers. They’re the best capers for cooking or using as a garnish. Keep an extra bottle in your pantry at all times. You don’t want to be caught without a handful of capers when something needs a little extra kick or a toddler demands a salty snack.
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Best for Cooking
Best with Smoked Salmon
Best in Red Sauce
Best of the Best
Other caper brands we tried: Crosse & Blackwell 100% Non-Pareil Capers, Sprouts