You must have seen and tasted the green, pea shaped salty berries, which form an important ingredient in many different cuisines of the world. For those who have no idea what they are and want to know more about them, you have come to the right place. These little berries that impart a pungent and salty taste to dishes are called capers and are the edible flower buds of a shrub known as Capparis spinosa. The capers that you find in the markets are these buds that are plucked, dried and pickled by packing them in salt or by keeping them in brine solution. Capers which develop into fruits are also available as caper berries, which are then pickled or brined. They are cultivated in several parts of the world including the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, Turkey Southern Europe, and California.
Nutritional value of Capers
Capers not only provide flavor and aroma to your dishes, but the high nutritional content of these berries offer a boost to your health as well. In addition to being low in calories and cholesterol, capers improve your health as they are high in protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are rich in flavonoid compounds such as rutin and quercetin, which are also powerful antioxidants having anti-carcinogenic analgesic, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain few other compounds including kaempferol, spermidine, stigmasterol, tocopherols, campesterol, and carotenoids. Capers can provide with good levels of vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin and folate. These berries happen to be an excellent source of minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium. Because they are kept in brine solution they have very high content of sodium.
Health benefits of Capers
Cooking with capers will add an exciting and distinctive flavor to your meals. They also provide several health benefits because of their high nutrient content. Consumption of capers will help your body obtain its recommended daily intake of some of the essential nutrients. That being said, it is important to consume them in moderation, because of their high salt content.
Capers – meat lover’s best friend
Studies conducted by Italian researchers suggest that the antioxidants in capers may help in neutralizing the oxidative effect from the digestion of meat. Oxidative stress can lead to damage of the DNA, which in turn can increase the risk of developing cancer. This is where the power of antioxidants comes in. Antioxidants have the ability to prevent oxidation and protect you from the various life- threatening diseases. The study proves that the consumption of capers is beneficial to the health, especially for those who eat lot of red meat and foods rich in fat.
Benefits of capers for the skin
Capers help in keeping your skin well moisturized. They can be applied on the skin to obtain relief from dry skin. They are considered to be an effective remedy for various skin disorders such as redness of the skin, irritation and acne. Capers are high in rutin, a bioflavonoid that strengthens the capillaries, offering relief from conditions like rosacea (redness and pimples on the face). Quercetin, another bioflavonoid found in capers has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help in reducing acne breakouts and other types of skin infection. The high levels of antioxidants in these berries prevent oxidative stress on the cells caused by free radicals and hence help in slowing down the aging process. Because of these varied benefits capers are often used as an ingredient in the preparation of many skin care products.
Capers promote hair growth
The presence of iron and vitamin B makes capers beneficial for the healthy growth of hair. Vitamin B increase blood circulation, which helps in promoting hair growth as well as making your hair look beautiful and shiny. Iron is helpful in preventing hair loss and also in encouraging hair growth.
Capers to fight off cancer
Although tiny in size, capers pack a nutritional punch that protects you from several serious diseases including cancer. They are an excellent source of antioxidants that fight off the free radicals and prevent diseases like heart disease and cancer. Studies reveal that these little berries contain a phytochemical known as stachydrine, which acts as a powerful anti-metastatic agent in the case of prostate cancer. This antioxidant was found to work at the genetic level in preventing the growth and reproduction of prostate cancer cells. NF – kappa B is a protein complex that gets activated when you are suffering from diseases like cancer, arthritis, atherosclerosis and many inflammatory diseases. The bioflavonoids in capers are found to inhibit the activation of this nucleus factor, which is a promising breakthrough for drug research.
Capers aid in digestion
Capers are a rich source of dietary fiber, which helps in improving digestion. It adds bulk to your stools, makes your bowel movements regular and helps in preventing digestive problems like constipation. Fiber is also known to have cleansing properties that helps in reducing the risks of digestive disorders and diseases like colon cancer. Capers are also believed to be a good remedy for relieving stomachache and flatulence.
Capers and blood pressure
Capers extracts have been found to relax the blood vessels and hence may be helpful in lowering high blood pressure. However, it would be a good idea to consume fewer amounts of capers if you have high blood pressure due to salt sensitivity.
Capers as a remedy for arthritis and varicose veins
Rutin is a type of bioflavonoid that can be found in plentiful amounts in capers. It has the ability to maintain the strength and flexibility of capillaries and hence is very beneficial in treating strained blood vessels, which may lead to hemorrhoids. This property makes capers beneficial for people suffering from chronic venous insufficiency, a condition characterized by the inefficiency of the veins to return blood from the legs to the heart, leading to conditions like varicose veins, leg cramping and ankle swelling. Rutin has strong antioxidant properties that inhibits the oxidation of bad cholesterol and prevents its accumulation in arteries. This helps in lowering your risks of developing conditions like heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis. Rutin is also found to have anti-inflammatory effects that help in preventing inflammation, thereby being useful in the treatment of arthritis.
Capers for diabetes
Capers have antioxidant properties and contain certain chemicals that might be helpful in control blood sugar levels. If you are already taking diabetic medications it would be a good idea to avoid the consumption of capers as the blood sugar levels may drop to dangerously low values.
Capers are a rich source of iron
One of the benefits of eating capers is that it provides you with healthy levels of iron, a mineral that is mostly associated with the health of the red blood cells. Iron plays a vital role in oxygen transport as it helps the red blood cells to carry oxygen to all parts of your body. Iron is also needed for the production and development of cells. This essential mineral is used by your cells to produce sufficient amount of energy for carrying out your day to day functions. Eating foods rich is iron helps in preventing iron deficiency anemia and other diseases.
Capers for stronger bones
Capers are rich in nutrients that contribute to healthy and stronger bones. They contain vitamin K that strengthens your bones and prevents loss of bone density. Capers also contain mineral like potassium, calcium and magnesium that are associated with building and maintaining healthy bones. Incorporating capers into your diet can help in lowering the risks of developing conditions like osteoporosis.
Capers and sodium content
As mentioned previously, capers are generally stored in brine solution, which is high in salt content and hence they are comparatively high in sodium. A tablespoon of canned capers contains about 250 milligrams of sodium. Although small amounts of sodium is needed by your body to maintain the balance of fluids in and around the cells, excessive quantities of this mineral can cause several health problems. Too much intake of sodium is associated with increasing your risk of developing high blood pressure, which in turn increases your chances of heart disease. It is advised that people with high blood pressure or those having a family history of high blood pressure should not consume more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. Even though capers can be really tasty, make sure to eat them in moderation in order to avoid the health issues caused by excessive intake of sodium.
Capers can only be picked by hand, which makes the harvesting process quite tedious. This is the reason why they are very expensive. They have been used since ancient times in cooking. These little berries serve as wonderful toppings for pizza, chicken, fish and meat. You can also add them in salads, soups, stews and sauces. In fact there are endless possibilities of making delicious food with capers. So next time you want to add a unique salty or sour flavor to your dishes, try using capers.Image Credits: Spanish Food World, Flickr - Leslie Vella, Flickr - Mark Lane