A poppy seed is a tiny seed shaped like a kidney. It is harvested from the opium poppy plant and is classified as an oilseed, which means its oil is extracted by pressure and used almost as commonly as its seeds. Many countries around the world produce opium poppy, with India and Turkey reported as the top growers. Yugoslavia, France, Poland, Hungary and Belgium also produce a significant portion of the world’s opium poppy seed. The seed is commonly used as a cooking ingredient in baked goods, as a garnish or part of a spice mixture.
The seeds, which range in color from white to blue, purple and black, are used in both sweet and savory recipes, either whole or ground. The ground seeds are often mixed with butter or milk to create a paste used in baking. The seed is also used by various cultures as a garnish, condiment and spice. A dish may also have poppy seed as its main ingredient.
The poppy seed is considered an excellent source of nutrition as well, providing protein, fiber and other nutrients. They are also hailed as a seed that few people find allergenic. In rare occurrences, however, eating the seed has caused life-threatening reactions in humans.
Poppy seed oil is used for cooking, in pharmaceuticals and is found in some paint varieties. The leftover solids of the oil are generally considered an excellent source of protein and nutrients for animals and are frequently added to animal feed. These seeds provide nutrition in the feed consumed by domestic and wild birds as well, and are often given to them in large amounts to combat diarrhea and other gastrointestinal ailments.
The opium poppy is also the source of the controlled substance opium. While the seed pods are still green and pliable and the seeds are just starting to develop, they are harvested for the opium drug. The poppy seed used for culinary purposes is gathered when the plant is ripe, and the seed pods have dried. Since these two processes are so closely timed, traces of opium are frequently found in the dried seed. This sometimes results in people being falsely accused of substance abuse when the person has ingested food containing the seed and a subsequent blood sample tests positive for opium. These false positive test results frequently require legal proceedings to prove their lack of validity.
Seeds that come from other varieties of poppy plants are not suitable for human consumption. They are generally used to grow annual and biannual flowers. One of the most popular varieties, the California poppy, is renowned for the brilliant orange flower it produces.