Salty, rich, and tangy, capers are a mainstay in Mediterranean cuisine and used to bring a burst of flavor to a variety of dishes.

Capers are the immature flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a type of bush that’s commonly cultivated in countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece (1).

They’re usually salted and pickled and used as a garnish or seasoning, thanks to their small size and intense flavor.

What’s more, capers pack quite a punch in terms of nutrition and may be associated with several health benefits.

This article explores some of the benefits and downsides of capers and will take a closer look at how to use them.

A large bright bowl of chicken piccata, a lemon-and-caper-covered dish, next to a smaller bowl of broccoli and a fresh lemon on a blue wood table.Share on Pinterest
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Because capers are consumed in very small amounts, each serving provides a low number of calories and few grams of carbs, fat, and protein.

However, they do contain a high amount of sodium, along with a small amount of copper and vitamin K.

A tablespoon (9 grams) of canned capers contains (2):

  • Calories: 2
  • Protein: 0.2 grams
  • Carbs: 0.4 grams
  • Fiber: 0.3 grams
  • Sodium: 9% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Copper: 4% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 2% of the DV
  • Riboflavin: 1% of the DV
  • Iron: 1% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 1% of the DV

Sodium plays a central role in regulating fluid balance and blood pressure levels (3).

Capers also contain copper, an essential mineral involved in iron metabolism, energy production, and brain function (4).

Plus, they provide a bit of vitamin K, a micronutrient that your body needs for blood clotting and bone health (5).

Summary

Capers are low in calories, carbs, protein, and fat and contain a small amount of copper and vitamin K — two essential nutrients.

Capers may be associated with several health benefits.

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Good source of antioxidants

Capers are rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can neutralize harmful free radicals to prevent cell damage (1, 6).

Some research also indicates that antioxidants may reduce inflammation and protect against chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (6).

According to test-tube studies, capers are an especially good source of antioxidants like quercetin and rutin (1).

Both of these compounds have been well-studied for their ability to alleviate inflammation, enhance wound healing, and promote healthy blood sugar levels (7, 8).

Could support weight loss

Capers are loaded with flavor yet low in calories, making them an excellent addition to a healthy weight loss diet. And for some people, losing weight may benefit their overall health.

By swapping capers in for higher calorie ingredients used to flavor dishes, you may decrease your daily intake of calories, which can lead to weight loss (9).

May have diabetes-fighting properties

Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that capers may have potent diabetes-fighting properties.

According to one review, certain components found in capers could help promote better blood sugar management by enhancing the uptake of sugar by the tissues, reducing carbohydrate absorption, and protecting the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas (10).

A small study including 30 people with diabetes showed that consuming a tonic-containing caper extract 3 times per day helped prevent increases in blood sugar and triglyceride levels (11).

Similarly, an older study in 54 people with diabetes found that consuming 400 mg of caper fruit extract 3 times daily for 2 months led to significant improvements in fasting blood sugar levels and long-term blood sugar management compared with those in a control group (12).

Still, more studies are needed to determine how capers may affect blood sugar levels when enjoyed in normal amounts as part of a healthy diet.

Summary

Capers are rich in antioxidants, including quercetin and rutin. They may also help support weight loss and promote healthy blood sugar levels, but more research is needed.

Capers are relatively high in sodium, packing nearly 9% of the recommended daily value into a 1-tablespoon (9-gram) serving (2).

Although sodium is important for many aspects of health, consuming high amounts can increase blood pressure levels, especially among people who are more sensitive to its effects (13).

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke (14, 15).

Furthermore, high sodium diets have been linked to other adverse effects on health, including an increased risk of stomach cancer (16, 17, 18).

For this reason, it’s best to enjoy capers in moderation as part of a well-rounded diet, especially if you’re watching your intake of salt or following a low sodium diet.

Additionally, you can rinse capers before using them to help decrease their sodium content.

Summary

Capers are relatively high in sodium, which may increase your blood pressure levels. High sodium diets have also been linked to other adverse effects, including an increased risk of stomach cancer.

Capers are a versatile ingredient that can be easily added to a variety of recipes.

Typically available pickled and canned, they have a rich, salty flavor and slightly tangy taste that works well in sandwiches, salads, and pasta dishes.

They’re also commonly used to make chicken piccata or served on bagels paired with lox, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

If you’re feeling creative, you can also try using capers as a topping for your next homemade pizza, mixing them into dips and dressings, or swapping them in for pickles when making tuna or macaroni salad.

Keep in mind that capers are very salty, so you may need to adjust your recipes accordingly or rinse excess salt off of your capers before adding them to your recipes.

Summary

Capers can add a rich, salty flavor and tangy taste to sandwiches, salads, and pasta dishes. They can also be used to make chicken piccata, lox bagels, pizzas, dips, and dressings.

Capers are widely used as a seasoning and garnish in Mediterranean cuisine.

Although they’re low in calories and contain several important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they’re also very high in sodium and should be enjoyed in moderation.

Try adding capers to pizza, pasta dishes, salads, sauces, and dressings for an extra burst of flavor and nutrients.