An ideal caper has the perfect balance of saltiness, sweetness, acidity, and crunch. These sun-dried, pickled flower buds from the spiny shrub Capparis spinosa are used most often as a garnish in Mediterranean cooking, providing a pungent contrast to richer flavors. Green and roughly round, they range from the tiniest non-pareils to the largest caperberries, which are buds that have opened and set fruit. Their strong flavor develops as they are cured, either immersed in a salty brine (sometimes with vinegar) or packed in salt. Brined capers are the most commonly available and are less expensive than salt-packed. From previous tastings, we knew we preferred the compact size and slight crunch of tiny non-pareil capers, but which brand is best? We tasted six nationally available supermarket brands of brined non-pareil capers, evaluating them on their sharpness, saltiness, and overall appeal.
The winner had every component of the ideal caper: an acidic punch with a lingering sweetness that was both floral and pungent, and a crunchy texture that matched its flavorful bite. Some capers were slightly too salty, masking their fruity and floral notes. Other capers, while basically acceptable, fell down in the rankings for lacking the right balance of salt and acid or for having a texture that was too soft or too chewy. Our last place capers were criticized for being overwhelmingly salty and unbalanced, with tasters detecting “dirt” and “mothballs” among the flavor notes.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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