The poppy is a tall annual with blue-green stems. Papavera somniferum means sleep-inducing poppy, referring to the opium latex that exudes when the unripe seed pod is cut. Neither the seeds nor the dried pods from which they are harvested have narcotic properties. Poppy seeds may be slate blue, creamy white, or mid-brown. The latter are used mostly in Turkey and the Middle East. Blue poppy seeds are most used in Europe, and the white seeds in India.
Native range Eastern Mediterranean, Central Asia
Major producers Holland, Iran, Poland, Romania, Russia, Turkey, India, Argentina
Harvesting The plants are harvested mechanically when the seed capsules turn yellow-brown. The capsules are then cut off and dried before the seeds are extracted.
Taste and aroma The aroma of blue poppy seeds is lightly nutty and sweet, and the flavour is strong and almond-like. White poppy seeds are lighter and mellower in flavour. Both the aroma and flavour are enhanced by dry roasting or baking.
Culinary uses In the West poppy seeds are sprinkled over or incorporated into breads, bagels, pretzels, and cakes. Ground to a paste with honey or sugar, they are used to fill strudels and other pastries. In Turkey, roasted, ground seeds are made into halva or desserts with syrups and nuts. In India the roasted seeds are ground and combined with spices to flavour and thicken kormas, curries, and gravies.
Other uses Blue poppy seeds are used in painkillers, cough mixtures, and as an expectorant.
Historical uses The poppy plant has been cultivated since the earliest times, primarily for opium but also for its ripe seeds.
Storage Poppy seeds should be stored in an airtight container or in the freezer if you intend to keep them for more than a few months.