Do Capers Go Bad?

A comprehensive guide to handling these tiny, briny flavor bombs.


Abby Mercer/AllRecipes

Capers – the round, delightful bursts of flavor that seem to effortlessly elevate everything from Piccata to egg salad (and simultaneously aggravate an entire percentage of the population that seems to hate them but can't tell you why) – manage to be a bit of an enigma unto themselves. Many people aren’t even sure what capers actually are, let alone knowing how to tell if they've gone bad. The question is, do capers even go bad?

What Are Capers?

Capers are the small, green un-ripened flower buds of the Capparis spinosa, or Flinders rose, bush. This perennial bush showcases large white and pinkish flowers with rounded leaves when left to bloom. By the time the buds reach your local grocery's shelf, they've been dried and preserved —  cured in salt or pickled in brine — accounting for their signature salty, briny flavor profile, as the buds themselves do not taste this way. It is this flavor, however, that allows capers to step in seamlessly as a seasoning or garnish to many dishes.

Capers are sold in a variety of sizes. Nonpareils are the smallest, measuring at about ¼-inch, and come from the south of France. Their flavor, due to the size, can be described as the most concentrated, while the texture remains delicate rather than dense. This may account for the higher price tag in stores.

Other caper varieties, from smallest to largest, include: surfines, capucines, capotes, fines, and grusas — the last being the least common. As the caper increases in size, so does the acidity, so this is good to keep in mind when selecting a caper for your recipe.

Capers left unharvested grow into caperberries. These are about the size of an olive and tote a long stem. Inside are tiny, kiwi-like seeds and a texture much softer and more supple than capers. Thus, caperberries tend to be milder than regular capers and fit in more easily to things like charcuterie and antipasti boards or as garnishes for Bloody Marys.

Do Capers Go Bad?

Capers can go bad, but since they are kept in vinegar, they last a long time. As we know from centuries of using vinegar to preserve food, the acidic liquid prevents bacterial growth and greatly extends the shelf life of foods.

Stored in the fridge, properly submerged in the liquid they are packaged in, capers may last up to a year. Unopened and in the pantry, you can rely on these tasty buds for twice that long.

Don't forget: "Best By" dates are more of a suggestion than a rule. If there are no signs of spoilage, go ahead and use them.

How to Tell If Capers Are Bad

Deciphering whether capers are bad involves utilizing standard tests for most canned or jarred items. First, if the capers are unopened, but the lid is no longer sitting flat as it's supposed to, has developed a dome, or the safety seal has popped, the capers inside have surely gone past the point of no return.

Capers are various shades of dull-ish green, so if you find any brown or black ones, it's time to toss them. Mold can also be a concern, especially if the capers are stored fully drained or left to peak up out of the liquid. Any dark green, white, or black spots in the liquid, on the inside of the jar, or on the capers themselves are a no-go.

Finally, if opening the jar presents an unpleasant odor (or really anything other than the aroma of salt or vinegar), you know what to do. Toss it!

How to Store Capers

Just like their larger, briny cousins, the salty liquid packed with the capers is essential for maintaining them. Store unopened capers in a cool, dark place away from sunlight, such as a pantry. If your pantry has a history of going above 75 degrees F at any point, opt for the fridge instead. Once opened, they should have a one-way ticket to the fridge.

Capers can also be stored in the freezer in an airtight container. Simply check for signs of freezer burn before eating them (white patches of ice crystals), as this can severely impact the taste and texture of these delicate buds, causing them to be mild and mushy: two words no one loves to use when it comes to food.

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