White Poppy Seeds: An Overview
White poppy seeds are a favorite ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. In fact, they’re much more common than blue or black poppy seeds. Used to thicken chutneys, provide texture to sauces, and for a nutty flavor, white poppy seeds offer a mellower flavor than their blue counterparts. The flavor difference between blue and white poppy seeds is minimal, though. The white seeds tend to be slightly less sweet but have a similar nutty flavor.
Cooking with White Poppy Seeds
Poppy seeds are a versatile ingredient, and they have been used in cooking for thousands of years. When deciding between black or white poppy seeds, the white seeds are used more frequently in savory dishes, and they’re preferred if you don’t want to the color of the dish to change. (Blue poppy seeds can “dye” dishes when simmering.)
In Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, white poppy seeds are used for:
- Savory Dishes – White poppy seeds pair well in savory soups, sauces and chutneys. They’re great for adding texture and a bit of a crunch.
- Baked Goods – The white seeds work well in breads and savory baked dishes.
- Poppy Seed Paste – The white seeds are commonly ground into a paste and mixed with honey, sugar or syrup. The sweet and nutty paste is used in pastries and cakes.
- Thickening Agent – Ground poppy seeds have a natural thickening effect on soups, stews and sauces. They’re a favorite thickener in Indian cooking.
Store your poppy seeds in an air-tight and dry container, where they keep for several months. Due to their high oil content, though, poppy seeds can go bad after about six months, so be careful to use fresh poppy seeds in your cooking.
White Poppy Seed Cultivation
White poppy seeds come from the same plant that’s used produce opium (Papafer somniferum). Yet, no need to worry, the seeds have just a microscopic opium content.
Poppies grow to about two feet tall, and they produce a flower and seed pod. The pods produce a sappy oil, which is used to make opium. Yet, the seeds are protected in the pod. White poppy seeds produce a plant that has an all-white flower, and they’re grown primarily in India and Southeast Asia. The seeds have been used in cooking since ancient times.
White poppy seeds are preferred throughout India, and they’re especially common in Northern Indian cooking as a thickener. The plant has a long history in India. It was a staple crop as early as the 1500s, and through the 1700s, Indian farmers perfected their poppy growing practices. Today, Indian continues to produce a large percentage of the world’s poppies.
White Poppy History
The opium poppy is one of the world’s oldest medicinal plants. The earliest references come from around 3,4000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, where the Sumerians called the poppy the joy plant. From Mesopotamia, the poppy was brought to Egypt and finally to Europe.
Poppy seeds were mentioned in Egyptian papyrus scrolls as a medicine, known for its sedative properties. Poppy seeds have been observed in cooking for thousands of years, as well. Fossils found in Switzerland included poppy seed cakes and poppy seed pastes, which date to 500 B.C.
Ultimately, the poppy trade didn’t become commercialized until the early modern period. In the 1500s, the Chinese increased the production and trade of opium poppies, which also increased demand for the seeds. And around this time, the Netherlands became a producer of poppies. Today, India is the world’s most prolific producer of white poppy seeds.
About Our White Poppy Seeds
India is one of the world’s largest producers of poppy seeds and opium. Burma Spice sources unprocessed poppy seeds from independent farms in Uttar Pradesh, a northern state in India.
Uttar Pradesh is home to the Taj Mahal and is actually one of the most populated regions in the world. Uttar Pradesh has a milder climate compared to India’s southern reaches, which provides ideal growing conditions for the white poppy. Also, Uttar Pradesh is one of just a select few states in Indian that can legally grow the plant.