Thursday, February 7, 2008

Capers: The Line Between Love and Hate

Today we reveal the results of our Mysteries of British Food Quiz. But first a small confession: the quiz was only partially about testing people's knowledge about British food terminology. Mostly, the quiz was our attempt to prove one simple thing: that most people don't like capers. In my mind, capers are objectively unpleasant and have no redeeming value apart from saltiness, but recent conversations with some friends have revealed that there are indeed some honest caper-lovers out there. Caper-lovers seem to think that capers are highly similar in flavor to olives (which is an insult to the deliciousness of olives) and that olive-lovers should also love capers. So, what does the survey say? Do people like capers at all, and is there a correlation between olive-love and caper-love?

Average rating score for each food

Of all of the foods surveyed, capers received the lowest average rating and the most overall negative votes. This is of course not surprising, as capers are quite gross. However, the average score of capers was precisely neutral. Apparently people have a wide range of opinions about capers, as votes were spread across the spectrum. Olives had the most "Passionate love, ooh baby" votes, but was just edged out for the overall top spot by mustard. My prediction was that olives would win, so mustard is a bit of a surprise. As for the correlation between olive-love and caper-love, there was no such correlation to be found in our data. I haven't data-mined for other possible correlations, but the general pattern is that people exhibited a diversity of very specific tastes. Other than capers, responders generally liked the other foods, despite the fact that they were purposely foods that tend to provoke strongly negative reactions in certain people.

On the specifically British food questions, we were hoping to find a difference between British and non-British responders. Unfortunately, we only got one British responder out of 28 overall, with everyone else being American (despite some falsely claiming to be from Inner Mongolia, and Bingen, Germany). While the British responder did answer nearly every question correctly, and Americans did much worse in general, you can't say much with a sample size of 1. The results to all of the questions are summarized below with the correct answers in orange and percentage response on the y-axis (click on the picture to expand, no need to squint).

A quick answer guide and commentary:
1. Gammon is essentially ham - some argue that it becomes ham once cooked, others that it is cured in a different fashion. It's ham. People did relatively well on this, with "A small chicken relative" coming in second.
2. Winkles, or Periwinkles, are in fact sea snails. They are not "Small pickled cucumbers" as most people believed, probably out of disbelief that anyone would eat sea snails.
3. A Victoria Sponge is a cake with a jam filling, as most responders knew. Thank you to the three people for indulging me by picking "A heavy beer drinker".
4. All British sausage must contain nutmeg. I have no explanation for this, and I wish it was not the case. I can't find good Italian fennel sausage anywhere. At our local supermarket, there is a large refrigerated case filled with 30+ types of sausage - most say they include nutmeg right on the front, a couple cagey ones list "spices" in the ingredients, but somehow I'm certain that nutmeg is one of those spices. I don't blame people for getting this one wrong.
5. Bubble and squeak is potatoes and cabbage (or any similar mix of potatoes and greens). It can be quite tasty.
6. Stargazy pie is a fish pie with protruding fish heads, supposedly gazing at the sky. I didn't make this up. Here is a nice post with some pictures and a recipe for the truly brave.
7. People were fairly unanimous on this one - a Ploughman's Lunch is the common pub meal composed of cheese, apple, bread, pickle, butter and a small salad, often consumed with beer. I don't think I'll be trying a Footman's Revenge any time soon.
8. While most people guessed that the Cornish pasty is now a regionally protected name, it is in fact the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. Here is a useful link to the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association - keep in mind, an authentic Melton Mowbray Pork Pie is grey inside, not pink. Grey=good, pink=bad. In retrospect, I should have shown the results for this question as a pie chart.

I guess it isn't surprising that most Americans are a bit confused about British food terminology - we're only slowly figuring it out ourselves, and I regularly see people getting British food questions wrong on UK quiz shows such as Eggheads. It probably isn't that important if I don't know my sarnie from my kedgeree, as long as I'm sure that I'm not ordering something with capers in it.


RWApplewannabe said...

Based on the rigor and thoroughness of your analysis, I can see that getting a PhD really has its benefits. Thanks for the Friday entertainment! said... is still available. That's the real surprise. Capers are not food. I'm not even sure they are a plant. They are filled with venom that makes the consumer think they like them, kinda like that show "Scrubs".

cabby said...

What did capers ever do to any of you??? Granted, they don't have the full flavor and meaty texture of the blessed and poetic olive. Yet, they can add the right salty something to a bit of chicken breast with a light lemon butter sauce. Surely they can't be as completely distastefull as horseradish or mustard(Favorite??? Clearly another mishap at the voting booths!)

hildy von b said...

hey... I think I might have gotten one right! maybe... I can't really remember. said...

There is no recent clinical evidence to guide dosage of capers.The topical application of wet compresses soaked in fluid containing capers has been associated with the development of contact dermatitis. Therefore, patients with sensitive skin should be aware of the irritating potential of this plant when used topically.

hildy von b said...

do capers give you ringworm? said...

Capers have been linked by scientists at Harvard, UCSD, and De Pauw University to a variety of vicious health maladies, including ringworm, narcolepsy, and bowel obstruction. Of course, the SCU (Societe Capers Universale) wouldn't want you to know this. But be forewarned.

Anonymous said...

I get many requests for Chicken Marbella (calls for capers) and no one has left capers on the plate. First timers always ask for the recipe. Perhaps a traumatic dinner table incident occurred when capers were first served? Favorite contestent tossed off Jeopardy or ???

capersaredevil-bunnydroppings said...


CapersmakeEnterococcusfaecalis said...

Fermented capers kill.

Krista said...

I love capers...can't get enough of them, particularly when they're paired with veal and lemon. Can't do olives though!

Love the analysis.