Capers — the tiny pickled beads of saltiness that we often associate with bagels and lox or a tasty chicken piccata — have some serious health benefits hiding behind their petite size and powerful flavor.
Capers are the tiny buds of a plant called a Flinders Rose (or Caper Bush) pickled to take away their bitterness and turned into the salty flavor bombs we love.
A new study points out that they are also the richest natural known source of quercetin, an antioxidant flavonoid. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine found that because of that high level of quercetin, eating capers “can directly regulate proteins required for bodily processes such as heartbeat, thought, muscular contraction, and normal functioning of the thyroid, pancreas, and gastrointestinal tract.” That’s a lot packed into such a small ingredient!
On top of that, the quercetin in capers also regulates a gene family known as KCNQ. Common medical issues like diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia, and epilepsy are linked to KCNQ dysfunction. “Increasing the activity of KCNQ channels in different parts of the body is potentially highly beneficial,” the researchers explain. “Synthetic drugs that do this have been used to treat epilepsy and show promise in preventing abnormal heart rhythms.”
The study also notes that capers have been eaten as traditional folk medicine for centuries. The American Botanical Council lists historical examples like “expelling bad odor spirits” and treating paralysis in various ancient cultures.
While those uses might be a stretch for the pickled buds’ abilities, a study from 2007 has uncovered their ability to prevent byproducts linked to risk of cancer and heart disease that can form in our bodies when digesting meat. This impressive benefit was found with even just a few of the pickled buds sprinkled onto their participant’s meals.
Researchers from the Irvine School of Medicine also mention that there are currently several more studies looking into capers anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, and anti-inflammatory properties, plus circulatory and gastrointestinal benefits.
We don’t know about you, but we certainly won’t look at the capers on our bagels or pasta dishes without thinking about all the ways those delicious bits can help keep our bodies running properly.