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Poppy Seeds

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Papaver somniferum

It Takes Only One Million to Make a Pound

This tiny spice measures 1/16 inch in diameter. It would take approximately one million poppy seeds to equal a pound. These dried bluish gray seeds do come from the poppy plant. They are grown in central Europe, the Middle East, and India. Poppy Seeds have a nutty flavor and a crunchy texture. There are also beige and brown poppy seeds, though these are much more common in Asian or Middle Eastern markets. Poppy seeds have a very high oil content. The flavor of poppy seeds can be augmented by toasting them.

Yes, this is the same plant that produces the drugs morphine and codeine known as opiates. According to Snopes.com, they can be detected in urine for at least 48 hours after one eats food containing poppy seeds. As little as a single bagel covered with poppy seeds could produce a false positive test for these drugs. Poppy seeds of culinary use have none of the alkaloids that comprise the narcotic. But, a recent episode of Mythbusters disputed this claim and seemed to prove otherwise. I guess this means the jury is still out, so to speak.

In the West, the blue poppy seeds are used principally in confectionery and in baking. Like several other spicy seeds, they are sprinkled on breads and buns and used in a variety of Western cakes and pastries, for example in poppy cakes, strudels and Danish pastries. Poppy seed complements honey spread on bread, giving a nice contrast of texture. Fried in butter, poppy seeds can be added to noodles or pasta. It flavors vegetables and the sauces to go with them, especially asparagus and root vegetables. Sprinkled into coleslaw, the seeds give a contrast of both color and texture. They are used to top creamed potatoes and au gratin dishes, and sometimes in fish dishes. In Middle Eastern and Jewish cookery, poppy seeds go on breads, in cakes and candies, and studding pretzels.

In the East the white poppy seed is generally used. Chappatis (Indian whole-wheat griddle breads) may contain it, and certain curries and varieties of mixed spice contain a small proportion of poppy. Its function in curry is partially to thicken the liquid and add texture. The whole seeds are used in chutneys. The oil from poppy seeds, which the French call oillette, is used for culinary purposes and is an acceptable substitute for olive oil. The European poppy variety is used to make a syrup similar to rose hips, which is sometimes used in soups. Poppy syrup is made from the flowers of the corn poppy or rose poppy, (P. rhoeas). It is used in cordials. This variety is also known as ‘headache’ – to smell it causes momentary dizziness. It is also the poppy of Remembrance Day which is the emblem of the soldiers who perished in the Great War. They are hard to grind, so they require a special machine. These hand-turned grinders are common in Austria and Germany but seldom seen elsewhere. Indian poppy seed – ‘mawseed’ – is a food for birds.

There really is no good substitute for poppy seeds.

Recipes

Poppy Seed Turkey
Poppy Seed Shortbread