Ever wonder what those teeny tiny black seeds are, adorning your bagels and baked goods? Well friends, those itty little orbs are poppy seeds.
What are Poppy Seeds?
The opium poppy (yes, that same poppy), papaver somniferum, is where we get the poppy seed. Once the poppy has bloomed and dropped it’s petals, the seed pod remains (a bulbous, ping pong ball-shaped pod). Harvesting poppy seeds is an art of timing. Harvest early and the seed pods are too green to produce viable seeds. Harvest too late and the pod may have already begun to disperse or dump its seeds. Poppy farmers have the methodology and know-how to predict when the seed pods are just dry enough to extract the seeds.
Poppy seeds are classified into two types: blue and white. The blue seeds, which appear to be almost black in color, are most commonly used in North America and Europe. The Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean, are more familiar with the white variety of poppy seeds.
Culinary Uses for Poppy Seeds
There’s some hesitation, at first, when folks hear that these seeds come from the same plant that produces opium. Fear not however, poppy seeds used for culinary purposes are processed in such a way as to greatly reduce the opium alkaloid content, which makes them safe and legal to cook with.
Poppy seeds themselves are relatively neutral in flavor with a slightly nutty edge. It’s the super crunchy texture, small shape, color, and baking durability that make poppy seeds so attractive to chefs. That’s why you most often see poppy seeds sprinkled on or baked into baked goods like bagels, muffins, cakes, and breads. Perhaps the most well known and enjoyed poppy seed pairing is with lemon. Try our version in this recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Cake.
Sourcing and Storing Poppy Seeds
Poppy seeds are readily available at most grocery stores, commonly found in the spice section. Be sure to store your poppy seeds in a sealed, air-tight, container away from heat and sunlight. If stored under the ideal conditions, poppy seeds can keep for upwards of 4 years.