A Poppy Seed Preamble
The poppy has been cultivated for thousands of years for its medicinal sap—and by the unfortunates attuned to hear the siren song of its addictive end product, opium. Poppy plants also carry a very small, very tasty, and decidedly harmless seed.
Each poppy pod contains hundreds of the tiny seeds, which became incorporated as a spice and flavoring agent in the Mediterranean cultures which first recognized the plant’s medicinal value, and are now a staple of the global kitchen.
Poppy seeds impart a delightfully light, nutty flavor to foods, and today are used in baked goods to bring a delicious dimension off flavor to sweet breads, muffins, and scones. Poppy seeds are also a natural for dressings, vinaigrettes, and sauces.
Poppy seed is an oil seed, and will express a flavorful cooking oil that is prized in gourmet kitchens. Poppy seeds are rich in dietary fiber, and contain significant levels of essential minerals like copper, manganese, and calcium.
Cooking with Poppy Seeds
Poppy seeds may be used whole or ground. When they are ground, their nuttiness gives way to a general fruitiness, albeit a subtle one.
The seeds are a familiar sight in muffins and other baked goods, so those who haunt bakeries religiously and make frequent use of their oven recognize them immediately. Their nutty flavor, when combined with a sweetener and fresh lemon, is marvelously complex, and poppy seed bars are becoming a holiday tradition for adventurous bakers. Poppy seed vinaigrette is another instantly recognizable staple of the well-rounded table.
Beyond the confines of the flour-based recipes and dressings, though, poppy seeds enjoy a versatile and nearly ubiquitous place in the globally-oriented kitchen as a subtle flavoring additive and a visual enhancement to meats and vegetables. They are a natural for sauces, and roast chicken with poppy-seed glaze is a favorite.
Poppy seeds are also used frequently in vegetarian and vegan cooking. They merge beautifully with sautéed greens and tofu, and add a new dimension to summer salads.
A few other ways to explore the potential of poppy seeds:
- In vegetarian and non-vegetarian curry recipes;
- In chicken casseroles;
- In onion dips;
- As a sweet filling for tarts and turnovers;
- As an ingredient for homemade mayonnaise;
- In Bengali and curry fish recipes.
The History and Origin of Poppy Seed
There are upwards of fifty varieties of flowering poppy. The opium poppy—papaver somniferum—has been a mainstay of cultivation since at least 3,400 B.C.E. Valued medicinally in the ancient world—as it still is today—the plant became an agricultural staple of early civilizations.
The poppy flower is lovely, and a garden planted with a mix of varieties yields prominent, strident stalks capped with spectacularly bright, multi-colored blooms. It also has historical significance in Western Europe; as the red poppy came to symbolize blood spilt in Flanders during the First World War, the flower became a token of remembrance.
Poppy seed has been used in the culinary arts since prehistory. It was used widely in ancient Rome, where its exotic geographical associations were as important as its flavor.
Cultivation of Poppy Seeds
The genera of poppy cultivated today is extensive. Oriental, Icelandic, and California poppies are a few of the flowering plants thriving today. But the most flavorful seed comes from p. somniferum, a carrier of the nefarious and soporific sap.
The seeds themselves, however, are harmless. And flavorful. There is no shortage of culinary uses for poppy seeds, and they are found in native cookbooks in the countries of Eastern Europe, as well as in those of Russia, Greece, Turkey, India, and Iran, among others.
Today, most poppy seeds come from the Netherlands, and Dutch seeds are common in supermarkets. They also come from Turkey, India, Great Britain, and Spain.
Our Black Poppy Seeds
Burma Spice found the most flavorful black poppy seeds in Spain. Our poppy seeds are grown in the Castile and León region and have a pronounced nuttiness and a hint of sweetness.
Burma Spice offers washed and unwashed black poppy seeds for sale, with both varieties sourced from the same farm in Spain.