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Pantry staples: poppy seeds

We take a closer look at one of our favourite ingredients.

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Our pantry staples series sees us take a look at the ingredients that most people usually have in their kitchens – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. This time we're focusing on poppy seeds.

Poppy seeds are often seen in baked goods, particularly festive Eastern European varieties. This is because they were thought to aid a good night's sleep ahead of Father Christmas' arrival, which stems from the opiate properties associated with poppies. 

What are poppy seeds?

Poppy seeds are an oilseed harvested from dried seed pods found in bright poppy flower. They are extremely popular in Eastern European, German, Indian and Jewish cuisine. Mostly used as a filling or topping in pastries, they can also be seen in savoury dishes, such as pasta or curry.

Poppy seeds have been used for culinary and sedative purposes for over 3,000 years and descriptions of them can be seen in texts dating back to Ancient Egyptian times, as well as in Minoan and Sumerian writings. 

These seeds are absolutely tiny, less than a millimetre in length, with a pitted surface. Poppy seeds are so light that it actually takes more than 3,000 individual seeds to make up just one gram. The two most popular varieties of poppy seeds are blue and black, both of which are widely used in cooking, but white poppy seeds are also commonly seen in Indian cooking.

Nutritionally speaking, poppy seeds are a great source of thiamin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as polyunsaturated fats. However, they do need to be eaten in quite large quantities to truly obtain any nutritional value, which brings us to our next interesting fact about poppy seeds: there is scientific evidence that indicates that ingesting poppy seeds, even just a poppy seed bagel, could cause you to fail a drug test. This is because opium is made from 'milking' unripe seed pods, not the seeds themselves, but opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine, can be found in all parts of the plant. 

Traditional poppy seed rolls. Photo by Anna Verdina (Karnova) on Flickr
Traditional poppy seed rolls. Photo by Anna Verdina (Karnova) on Flickr

Recipe inspiration 

If you want to learn to incorporate these tiny seeds into your cooking, we have plenty of recipes using them on the site, including this Sekendari lamb shank recipe. We also love using poppy seeds as a garnish in this mushroom wellington recipe, as they look very striking against the golden coloured pastry. This apple crumble hotcake recipe also uses poppy seeds and its perfect for breakfast.

If you want to try adding poppy seeds to your baking for a bit of extra texture, add a couple of spoonfuls to this lemon and orange cake recipe or this lemon curd layer cake. We also think poppy seeds work so well with blueberries, so we often add some to this muffin recipe

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons