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What are Poppyseeds?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 16, 2024
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Poppyseeds come from pods at the base of poppy flowers, Papaver somniferum. Many varieties of cuisine use poppyseeds, whole or ground, as a spice in sauces, breads, and marinades. Also, poppyseeds contain chemical alkanoids that are used to make opiate derivatives, such as morphine, opium, and heroin.

When the polinated poppy's blooms shrivel, they leave behind a capsule full of slowly ripening seeds. These kinds of poppies are native to Asia and Europe. For centuries, many cultures have used their mature seeds as a spice. Poppyseeds are dark blue or grey in color and smaller than the head of a pin. An Indian variety are whitish. With their mild and nutty flavor, they are used in recipes similar to sesame seeds. The United States imports most of our poppyseeds from the Netherlands. When cold-pressed, they produce a flavorful oil similar to olive oil.

Foods in Turkish and Indian cuisine have inspired many chefs to integrate poppyseeds into main dishes, salads and desserts. It's common to find poppyseeds sprinkled on top of bagels, floating in balsamic vinaigrette, or encrusting a roasted turkey. You can bake them into pecan muffins, a loaf of lemon bread, or pumpkin cookies. Even though the amount of alkanoids in poppyseeds is negligible, it's true that ingesting them can result in a false positive on an opiate drug test for about 48 hours afterwards.

In Latin, the name of the poppy "somniferum" means, "brings sleep." The soporific effects of burning or eating poppyseeds were well known to ancient cultures. Eventually, people developed ways of concentrating the alkanoids to make opium and heroin, which are now controlled substances. They were also used to develop the powerful painkilling drug, morphine. The lore surrounding poppyseeds was so strong that women in Europe used to place them on a windowsill if they wanted to give birth to a baby boy rather than a girl.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By stolaf23 — On Feb 01, 2011

In eastern Europe it is really popular to make baked desserts flavored with poppy seeds. It can be an odd thing if you are not used to it, especially because these foods often look like they might be chocolate. Some poppyseed recipes can be really tasty, though, so it is worth trying a few times to see if you like them.

By anon1808 — On Jun 16, 2007

can poppy seeds get rid of headaches due to strokes?

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