I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of caper substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured I’ve got you covered.
Capers’ flavor profile is hard to replicate, but green olives get pretty close. Try caperberries or caper leaves if you want a subtler brininess. Dill pickles also work but will bring a slight crunch to your dish. Or you can try lemon juice and vinegar if you only want to add a sour tang.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made chicken piccata to try out a few different substitutes for capers.
Capers are unripened flower buds from a caper bush (weird that they would eventually turn into flowers, right?). They’re known for their intense floral tartness and briny, salty kick that’s guaranteed to wake up your tastebuds.
Looking for a substitute that perfectly matches capers’ unique flavor profile was challenging, but I found a few options that came close enough.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Green olives||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Caperberries||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with minced caperberries||10/10|
|Caper leaves in brine||1 tbsp capers = a couple of caper leaves||9/10|
|Other acidic ingredients (like lemon juice or vinegar)||Replace with half the volume||9/10|
|Dill pickles||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with chopped dill pickles||9/10|
|Pickled redbuds and spruce tips||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Anchovies||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with chopped anchovies||8/10|
Common uses for capers and their best substitutes
Capers are popularly used to contrast rich dishes like chicken piccata, but here are other uses and the best substitutes for those situations:
- Sauces like puttanesca and vinaigrettes: Try using green olives, caperberries, or dill pickles. Pickled redbuds also work but will bring a stark pop of red to your dishes.
- As a topper for appetizers and charcuterie boards: Try using green olives, caper leaves in brine, dill pickles, or pickled redbuds. Anchovies also work if you only want a briny addition.
That jar of green olives sitting at the back of your fridge is finally going to come in handy!
They boast a signature salty and briny flavor that makes them an excellent substitute for capers.
I chopped them up before using them with my chicken piccata, and they worked great! But you can also add them whole over salads and bruschettas.
Psst… Kalamata olives will work too, but they’re less tangy than the green ones.
I recommend adding a spritz of lemon juice to brighten up the kalamata olives if you’re using them.
How to substitute: Replace capers in a 1:1 ratio with chopped green or Kalamata olives.
Caperberries are a more mature version of capers.
They’re larger and softer but still carry that familiar salty flavor. They’re tart too, but it’s more mild.
They also have a slight crunch, courtesy of the tiny seeds inside them.
Traditionally caperberries are used for garnishing rather than cooking. But you can also mince them and blend them into a sauce like you would with capers.
How to substitute: Replace capers in a 1:1 ratio with minced caperberries (adding more if you want a stronger flavor).
Caper leaves in brine
Can’t handle capers’ punchy flavor? Try using caper leaves in brine instead.
They’re less concentrated in flavor, offering a milder salty tang that’s great for people who find capers too overpowering.
These worked okay with my chicken piccata, but they’re better suited for non-cooking applications like salads and garnishes.
I also tried them over a bagel topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon and it was fabulous!
How to substitute: 1 tbsp capers = a couple of caper leaves
Other acidic ingredients
Sometimes the best substitutes are the ones you already have in your pantry!
Acidic ingredients, while not a perfect match, can stand in for capers when you’re in a bind.
They bring that necessary tartness to perk up your dish.
My personal favorite for this is freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, which brings a brighter, citrusy twist to the plate.
It complements seafood and chicken dishes brilliantly, similar to capers.
But regular vinegar also works well if you want a simpler, more straightforward tang.
How to substitute: Replace capers in a with half the volume in lemon juice or vinegar
I didn’t think this substitute would work in place of capers, so I was surprised with how nicely the dill pickles blended with my piccata.
The pickles were milder than capers but had similar tangy notes.
They were a bit crunchier too, but I liked this because it contrasted with the juicy chicken.
I used kosher dill pickles because they were all I had in the fridge, but you can also use gherkins. Just remember to chop them up nicely before adding them to your dishes.
How to substitute: Replace capers in a 1:1 ratio with chopped dill pickles.
Pickled redbuds (and spruce tips)
If you have these redbuds or spruce trees growing in your area and don’t mind a little foraging, they can be an excellent and unique replacement for capers.
They’re more delicate and sweet, but will still deliver a salty-sour pop.
I used pickled redbuds, and my chicken piccata looked pretty as a picture!
Just follow the pickling method from this recipe to get started.
Both redbuds and spruce trees start flowering in early spring, which is hopefully not too far away for you!
How to substitute: Replace capers in a 1:1 ratio with pickled redbuds or spruce tips.
Anchovies aren’t a perfect substitute for capers, but they work if you’re only chasing that briny zing.
When chopped up and cooked, these little filets pretty much dissolve into the dish, leaving behind their rich, umami-packed flavor.
The only downside is they don’t have capers’ signature tang, but good thing it’s an easy fix!
Simply mix the chopped filet with a spritz of lemon juice to bring its flavor closer to the capers.
And there’s an added bonus: Anchovies are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, so you’ll be making your dishes healthier too.
How to substitute: Replace capers in a 1:1 ratio with chopped anchovies, and add a spritz of lemon juice to up the tanginess.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks as substitutes for capers, but here are some other options you can consider exploring:
- Green peppercorns preserved in brine – they look very similar to capers, but they have a milder tang and a less intense flavor.
- Nasturtium seeds – if you happen to have nasturtium flowers bearing seeds, you’re in luck. I had to ask my neighbors for these, but they’re well worth it. You’ll have to pickle them first to make them taste like capers. But after that, they taste almost exactly the same – just a touch more peppery.
- Sun-dried tomatoes – these are veering away from the flavor of capers, but they still have prominent tart flavor and a bonus umami kick. They go with most dishes you’d usually see capers in.
- Pickled red onions – these work best when you’re using them as a condiment or as a topper. They’re a tad sweeter than capers. You can use pre-made pickled red onions, but I always make them from scratch.
- Dried fruits like raisins and apricots – these are much sweeter than capers, but will still work well to add some contrast to a rich dish or a charcuterie board.
Substitutes to avoid
While I was researching I cam across some strange suggestions!
I tried everything anyway, but these are two opitons I tried which I don’t recommend.
- Artichoke hearts – these are often brined, which gives them a tangy flavor similar to capers, But they have a more prominent earthy flavor that can overpower your dish.
- Thyme – this herb was suggested for its lemony notes, but I felt it was too subtle to replace capers.
12 Best Capers substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp green olives
- 1 tbsp minced caperberries
- couple of caper leaves
- 1 tbsp other acidic ingredients
- 1 tbsp chopped dill pickles
- 1 tbsp pickled redbuds
- 1 tbsp minced anchovies
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen capers substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.