Poppy seed is an oilseed obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). The tiny kidney-shaped seeds have been harvested from dried seed pods by various civilisations for thousands of years. The seeds are used, whole or ground, as an ingredient in many foods, and they are pressed to yield poppy seed oil.
Use in Food and Cooking
Whole poppy seeds are widely used as a spice and decoration in and on top of many baked goods. In North America they are used in and on many food items such as rusk, bagels (like the Montreal-style bagel), bialys, muffins and cakes, for example, sponge cake. Across Europe, buns and soft white bread pastries are often sprinkled on top with black and white poppy seeds (for example Cozonac, Kalach Kolache and, Kołacz).
Poppy seeds are used in various German breads and desserts as well as in Polish cuisine. Like sesame seeds, poppy seeds are often added to hamburger buns and make hot dog buns extra crunchy. Le Snak is a food product made by Uncle Toby’s of New Zealand, consisting of three poppy-seed crackers and a portion of semi-solid cheese.
Fillings in pastries are sometimes made of finely ground poppy seeds mixed with butter or milk and sugar. The ground filling is used in poppy seed rolls and some croissants and may be flavoured with lemon or orange zest, rum and vanilla with raisins, heavy cream, cinnamon, and chopped blanched almonds or walnuts added. For sweet baked goods, sometimes instead of sugar a tablespoon of jam, or other sweet binding agent, like syrup is substituted. The poppy seed for fillings are best when they are finely and freshly ground because this will make a big difference in the pastry fillings texture and taste. Some recipes for Mohnstriezel use poppy seed soaked in water for two hours or boiled in milk. A recipe for Ukrainian poppy seed cake recommends preparing the seeds by immersing in boiling water, straining and soaking in milk overnight.
Poppy seeds can be ground using a generic tool such as a mortar and pestle or a small domestic type electric blade grinder, or a special purpose poppy seed grinder. A poppy seed grinder (mill) is a type of burr grinder with a set aperture that is too narrow for intact poppy seeds to pass through. A burr grinder produces a more uniform and less oily paste than these other tools.
Poppy seed paste is available commercially, in cans. Poppy seeds are very high in oil, so commercial pastes normally contain sugar, water, and an emulsifier such as soy lecithin to keep the paste from separating. Commercial pastes also contain food preservatives to keep them from becoming rancid.
In the United States, commercial pastes are marketed under brand names including Solo and American Almond. Per 30 gram serving, the American Almond poppy seed paste has 120 calories, 4.5 grams fat, and 2 grams protein.
Poppy seeds can also be used like sesame seeds to make a bar of candy. The bars are made from boiled seeds mixed with sugar or with honey. This is especially common in the Balkans, Greece and even in the cuisines of former Austro-Hungarian countries.
Use in Cuisines
See also: List of Poppy Seed Pastries and Dishes
Poppy seeds are used around the world in various cuisines. In India, Iran and Turkey poppy seeds are known as khaskhas or hashas, and are considered highly nutritious, mostly added in dough while baking bread, and recommended for pregnant women and new mothers.
The seeds of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) are widely consumed in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. The sugared, milled mature seeds are eaten with pasta, or they are boiled with milk and used as filling or topping on various kinds of sweet pastry. Milling of mature seeds is carried out either industrially or at home, where it is generally done with a manual poppy seed mill. Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffins are a popular American and European snack.
Poppy seeds are widely used in Austrian cuisine, Czech cuisine, German cuisine, Hungarian cuisine, Polish cuisine, Romanian cuisine, Russian cuisine, Slovak cuisine, Turkish cuisine and Ukrainian cuisine.
In Lithuania and Eastern Slovakia a traditional meal is prepared for the Kūčios (Christmas Eve) dinner from the poppy seeds. They are ground and mixed with water; round yeast biscuits (kūčiukai; bobalky in Slovak) are soaked in the resulting poppy seed ‘milk’ (poppy milk) and served cold.
In Central Europe poppy strudel is very popular, especially during Christmas. In the countries belonging to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, poppy seed pastries called Mohnkuchen are often eaten around Christmas time.
In Jewish cuisine, pastries filled with poppy seed paste are traditional during Purim, which occurs exactly one month before Passover and approximately a month before Easter. Traditional pastries include poppy seed kalács and hamantash, both sometimes known as beigli (also spelled bejgli). In Israeli cuisine, poppy seed hamantash is the main traditional food eaten at Purim. This filling is referred to as “munn,” a Yiddish variation on the German word for poppy seed (Mohn). Munn pastries are common in Jewish bakeries and delicatessens throughout the United States.
In Indian cuisine and Pakistani cuisine, white poppy seeds are added for thickness, texture and also give added flavour to the recipe. Commonly used in the preparation of korma, ground poppy seed, along with coconut and other spices, are combined as the masala to be added at the end of the cooking step. It is quite hard to grind them when raw, so they are normally dry fried, and then mixed with a little water to get the right paste consistency.
Words for poppy seed paste include Tamil Kasa kasaa (கசகச), Kannada – Gasagase (ಗಸಗಸೆ) or Telugu gasagasa (గసగస) or gasagasaalu or Hindi – Khas Khas (खस खस) or Urdu – (خش خاش)..
Poppy seeds are widely used in Andhra cuisine, Bihari cuisine, Bengali cuisine, Oriya cuisine, and Malabar cuisine (Northern Kerala).
In Bengal (West Bengal and Bangladesh) white poppy seeds are called posto (পোস্তো). They are very popular and are used as the main ingredient in a variety of dishes. A popular dish is Aloo Posto (potato and poppy seeds) which consists of a large amount of ground poppy seeds cooked together with potatoes and made into a smooth, rich product, which is sometimes eaten with rice. There are many variants to this basic dish, replacing or complementing the potatoes with such ingredients as onions (pnyaj posto), Ridged Luffa (jhinge posto), chicken (murgi posto), and possibly the most popular prawns (chingri posto). The cooked poppy seeds are sometimes served without any accompanying ingredients at all. The consistency of the dish may vary depending on local or household traditions. There are many other posto dishes. Chachchariis a dish from Bengali cuisine and includes long strips of vegetables, sometimes with the stalks of leafy greens added, all lightly seasoned with spices like mustard or poppy seeds and flavoured with a phoron. One dish involves grilling patties made from posto, sometimes frying them (posto-r bora). Another dish involves simply mixing uncooked ground poppy seeds (kancha posto) with mustard oil, chopped green chilli peppers, fresh onions and rice.
In Karnataka cuisine, Gasagase Payasa (Kannada: ಗಸಗಸೆ ಪಾಯಸ) is very popular in southern part of the South Indian state of Karnataka. It is a liquid dessert made out of white poppy seeds, jaggery, coconut and milk. Andhra cuisine also uses white poppy seeds, called Gasaalu (గసాలు) in Telugu, in various recipes.
In Maharashtra, poppy seeds are used to garnish anarsa, a special sweet prepared during the festival of Diwali.
The seeds themselves do not contain significant amounts of opiates. But a poppy tea consumed in some areas and often referred to as doda has been controversial for containing ground opium poppy plant, especially the seed head, and contains significant levels of opiates. Popular in some South Asian communities, doda is created by grinding dried poppy husks or poppy seeds into a fine powder and then ingesting the mix with hot water or tea. In Canada, doda is made from poppy plants brought in from Afghanistan and Arizona under the guise of legal purposes such as floral arrangements, but is sold illegally from some meat markets.