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In the Mediterranean culinary tradition there exists an ingredient called capers. Small, green, and fuzzy with a slightly astringent and pungent taste, capers add a special piquancy to any dish. But what exactly are they?
Capers are actually the unripe, unopened, green flower buds of a prickly plant called capparis spinosa. Native to the Mediterranean area (mostly southern France, Italy, and Algeria), buds of this wild and uncultivated plant has been a part of that region’s culinary tradition since at least 1200 BC. In fact, the first recorded use of capers is in the Sumerian cuneiform Gilgamesh, which gives one of the earliest accounts of the story of Noah and the ark.
The cultivation of capers is a time-intensive process. Every morning, pickers must wait and watch to ensure that each bud is picked at the precise moment it reaches the proper size. Desired sizes can range from tiny (around the size of a peppercorn) to small (around the size of an olive). The larger the bud, the stronger the flavor. However, the smallest buds are the most aromatic. In fact, one of the most prized varieties of capers is the minuscule nonpareil, from the South of France.
After the buds are picked, they are laid out to dry in the sun. Once dried, the buds are pickled in vinegar, wine, brine, or salt in order to bring out a more lemony, tangy flavor.
Capers can be used as a garnish for meats and vegetables or added to sauces, condiments, salads, and dressings to create a certain sour and salty flavor. Try adding capers to some of your favorite Mediterranean dishes in order to bring out the special flavor of that region.
Though mustards are created all over the world, some of the most renowned varieties come from France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Each preparation uses a unique blend of mustard seeds, liquids, spices, and flavorings to create a distinctive condiment that can be incorporated into a wide array of culinary delights. Here’s a look at some of the most common varieties.
Yellow mustard, or American mustard, is the most widely used variety in the United States and Canada. One of the most mild offerings of mustard, the color of yellow mustard is obtained by mixing the seed with turmeric. Yellow mustard was created in 1904 by George T. French (of French’s mustards) and quickly became the most commonly used condiment on hot dogs, sandwiches, hamburgers, and pretzels, as well as a key ingredient in many salad dressings, potato salad recipes, and barbecue sauces.
Dijon is a medium strength mustard that originated in 1856 in the French town of Dijon. Its creator, Jean Naigeon, mixed verjuice, the acidic “green” juice from unripe grapes, with the mustard seeds instead of the more popular vinegar. Today, most Dijon mustard is made by mixing white wine with the mustard seed.
Honey mustard’s name comes from its blending of the mustard seed with honey. With a typical 1:1 ratio, the sweetness of honey mustard makes it a favorite choice to put on sandwiches or as a dip for finger food.
Spicy Brown (Deli Style)
Spicy brown mustard is unique due the fact that the seeds are coarsely ground in order to give the mustard a speckled brownish-yellow appearance. A spicier alternative to yellow mustard, spicy brown mustard is 2nd only to yellow mustard in its popularity in the United States.
These four varieties are only a few of the diverse offerings within the mustard family. Many countries have their own special varieties, creating a taste and flavor that is popular in their own region and culinary style.