Capers Are The Sardine Substitute That'll Bring Mediterranean Flair To Your Meal

There are a lot of great uses for canned sardines, but sardine sandwiches and pastas are probably some of the first foods that come to mind. However, if you aren't a fan of these preserved fish with a flaky texture and a rich, salty, and oily taste but still love the Mediterranean flair they add to a meal, you should always keep capers in your pantry as a go-to substitution. If you are vegan, you may really love this option because the unripe green buds are plant-based. 

Originating from the caper bush (Capparis spinosa), capers are picked, dried, and pickled in either a briny solution or cured with dry salt to create a very savory and sometimes pungent bite. These young flower blossoms are crunchy and tangy and can add a pop of flavor similar to how sardines do. They would be perfect in a pasta dish like almond, dill, and sardine bucatini, but before you start substituting there's one thing you need to consider. 

Size matters when it comes to capers

When selecting your capers, be aware that they come in a range of sizes — and with those different sizes, the taste and texture can vary. The smallest caper, the nonpareil, comes from France and is just ¼ of an inch wide in diameter. These small capers have an intense flavor and are typically on the pricier side. Larger capers like fines and grusas are going to be more acidic, so make certain you sample your capers before you use them in place of sardines. You don't want to overwhelm your recipe. And while this might not come as a shocking surprise, spoiler alert — capers have their own flavor profile. 

They are not going to be able to replicate that fishy, umami flavor a sardine offers up and there are definitely some dishes where capers may not fit the bill. For example, mini fish cakes and fried sardines really do require these little fish, but you might find that the caper's tangy Mediterranean flavor is more to your palate's liking in other dishes. What are some of the best ways to incorporate capers into recipes that call for sardines? Salads and pastas are a great place to start. Add capers in place of fish in an anchovy-heavy puttanesca sauce or as a salty addition to a Greek-style seven-layer salad