World of Poppy Seeds

By Gabriella Gershenson

Published on March 18, 2019

All poppy seeds are harvested from seedpods, like the ones pictured at right. There's the floral-tasting blue-black European variety (Papaver somniferum), the sweeter brown Turkish type (Papaver somniferum nigrum), and small, mild white poppy seeds (Papaver somniferum album), which are common in Asian cooking. (Because of their high oil content, whole poppy seeds should be stored in the freezer to preserve their freshness.) In many Indian dishes, white poppy seeds are pounded into spice pastes for curries; they also add nutty depth to desserts and sweet beverages.

In Japan, white poppy seeds are often a component of the seasoning mix called shichimi togarashi, which includes sansho pepper, sesame seeds, and other spices. In Eastern Europe, cooks use grinders designed to crush the seeds and release their flavorful oils, an important step in making the sweet paste featured in so many of the region's pastries. These sweet fillings are sold in cans and they can be made with ground poppy seeds. There's also poppy seed oil, which makes for a nutty-tasting vinaigrette.

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