Poppy seeds are the seeds of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). They are a rich source of several macronutrients; however, their fatty acid ratio raises concerns.
Poppy seeds are generally found in desserts and pastries like poppy seed cakes, poppy seed strudel, fruitcake, poppy seed noodles, and Germknödel (yeast dough dumplings), dishes which have a long-standing tradition in countries like Austria, Czechia, and Slovakia. Ground poppy seeds make for the perfect filling for recipes such as these. Sprinkling poppy seeds on rolls gives them a distinctive savory taste; the seeds can also be added to marinades for salads, dips, or sauces to enhance their flavor. Used in muesli or as a spice, poppy seeds add a mild, nutty flavor. Ground white poppy seeds are found in many Indian curry dishes. Ground into flour, the poppy seeds are used to thicken the sauces.
White poppy seeds taste the nuttiest, gray poppy seeds are much milder, and blue poppy seeds have the spiciest flavor.
As poppy seeds have a fat content of 40–50 %, they are ideal for obtaining cold-pressed poppy seed oil. Similar to flaxseed oil, poppy seed oil should be consumed soon after serving and never be heated
Mix poppy seeds, lime juice, canola oil, balsamic vinegar, agave syrup, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Then drizzle over your salad. For exact measurements, follow our recipe here: Tomato and Avocado Carpaccio With Poppy Seed Lime Dressing.
Whole poppy seeds can be bought in most major supermarket chains such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (US); Urban Fare, Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (CAN); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (GB). Store-bought poppy seeds are often a mixture of gray, blue, and blue-black seeds. Ground poppy seeds are usually sold for baking and are often sweetened. Organic poppy seeds can be bought in grocery stores with a large organic section and at health stores. You can also purchase white poppy seeds on the Internet or at health stores.
The wild poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is a close relative to the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and part of the poppy family (Papaveraceae). As its name suggests, it can be found growing wild. While it is mildly poisonous to animals, its seeds, flowers, and leaves are sometimes used in cooking and also as a medicinal plant.1,2 The poppy plant genus is comprised of about 120–150 species worldwide, including the opium poppy. The steel blue-seeded varieties most closely resemble the wild poppy. Another wild-growing variant of the poppy family is greater celandine (Chelidonium majus). It contains yellow sap that has antibacterial and antiviral properties and can be used in small doses in herbal medicine. The whole plant in moderate doses is toxic.
Whole poppy seeds keep for up to several months when stored in a dark, cool location and in an air-tight container. Open packages of poppy seeds should be kept in the refrigerator and eaten within a few days. Ground poppy seeds have a similar shelf life. Given their high oil content, damaged seeds spoil quicker. If they are spoiled, they will taste rancid. Ground poppy seed mixes can be frozen for up to two weeks.
With 525 cal/100 g, poppy seeds are high in energy. This is mainly due to their fat content of 42 %. In addition, they also have considerable levels of carbohydrates at 28 % and protein levels coming in at 18 %. Consuming 100 g of poppy seeds provides the daily requirement of manganese at 335 % (6.7 mg/100 g). Similar values of this trace element are found in spices such as fennel seed and dried thyme, which are eaten in much lower quantities.
Poppy seeds are also an excellent source of calcium, providing 1438 mg/100 g. This covers 180 % of the daily requirement of this important nutrient. Only dried spices such as oregano and rosemary can provide similar nutritional value. Poppy seeds are also a good source of thiamine (vitamin B1). While 0.84 mg per 100 g might appear to be on the low side, this covers about 78 % of a woman’s average daily requirement of thiamine. This is comparable to legumes such as lentils and soybeans.3 For more information, see the nutrient tables at the end of the text.
The analgesic effects of the opium poppy have long been recognized in medicinal plant science. The prototypical opiate “M” (C17H19NO3), an abundant opiate of the opium poppy, has been used in pure form since 1804. Known for its powerful pain relief properties, it is used in modern medicine for the treatment of diseases such as cancer and severe chronic pain illnesses.4
The intoxicating opiate alkaloids such as “M” and many other substances (“C,” “P,” “N,” “T,” and “Na”) are obtained from the milky latex of the opium poppy plant. These alkaloids act on specific receptors in the brain and gastrointestinal tract.5 To obtain opium from the poppy plant, incisions are made in the green seed pods, preferably after sunset. The latex oozes out and dries overnight, and can then be processed. One capsule contains about 20–50 mg raw opium, which has between 3–23 % “M.”
“M” is highly addictive and an overdose can lead to hypoventilation and even result in death. The use of this highly potent opiate is therefore regulated under strict narcotics laws. In comparison, the effects of “C” are only between a sixth to a twelfth to that of “M.” It is often prescribed for the treatment of severe dry cough. Heroin itself is not contained in poppy seeds but is a by-product of the chemical derivatization (esterification) of “M.” It has 3–6 times the analgesic effect of “M.”6
While poppy seeds are highly nutritious, whether or not they can be classified as a superfood is arguable. Despite being rich in vitamins and trace elements, the fatty acid ratio of poppy seed oil is particularly unfavorable. The ideal ratio of fatty acid linoleic acid to alpha-linolenic acid (LA:ALA) is 1:1. At 104:1, the level of omega-6 fatty acids, which are thought to promote inflammation, are much too high in poppy seeds. Even worse is the ratio of 130:1 found in cashews; however, these only contain 7.8 g of linoleic acid per 100 g as opposed to 28 g per 100 g. But they are eaten in larger quantities. Comparatively, the ratio of linoleic to alpha-linolenic acid in cold-pressed flaxseed oil is 1:3, which is considered healthy.7 Go to the link to flaxseed oil to read how this fatty acid ratio can affect your health.
The myth that poppy seeds are poisonous has long been refuted. They are not toxic as long as they are not abused. The levels of “M” and “C” found in poppy seeds are very low, which makes poppy seeds harmless. Nonetheless, some impurities can arise during harvest. If there are too many capsule fragments containing alkaloids in the harvest, it can elevate “M”-levels and lead to possible health risks.
Excessive consumption of poppy seeds and foods containing poppy seeds are generally advised against during pregnancy.14 And even though they are considered harmless, eating poppy seeds can also have an effect on the results of opiate drug testing. As a result, prisons in countries such as Germany, the UK, and the US have banned poppy seeds.7
Some people have allergic reactions to poppy seed plants when they come into contact with the plant or eat the seeds. However, these reactions are quite rare. The poppy seed allergens are sometimes resistant to heat (during cooking and baking).8 In addition, cross-reactivity can occur, whereby nut allergy sufferers may experience intolerance to poppy seeds.9 Stomach pain, nausea, itching of the mouth, or swollen lips and tongue are examples of the allergic reactions that may occur after eating poppy seeds.10
In ancient Greece, opium was used for religious and medical purposes, whereas in the Roman Empire it was considered the drug of the affluent classes. It has also been used externally. Poppies have been used in the production of balsam, ointment, oil, and a viscous syrup used for the treatment of pain, fever, and the plague.4 Opium and opium tinctures are used in traditional medicine as cough medicine and for the treatment of diarrhea.
The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is a very old cultivated plant originating from the eastern Mediterranean. In southern Europe, the opium poppy has been cultivated as a domesticated plant since the Neolithic Age (6000 BC). Written evidence documenting its pharmaceutical uses dates back to 4000 BC.11
White varieties, that is, white poppy seeds, are cultivated mainly in India. The varieties found for sale in Germany (blue poppy seeds) are mostly from Turkey, Czechia, Hungary, and Australia. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland also produce small quantities of the opium poppy. Afghanistan, Myanmar, Mexico, Laos, Pakistan, and Colombia are considered the top producing countries for opium poppy.12
The laws governing the cultivation of opium poppy vary from country to country. In Germany, the cultivation of poppies as cultivated and ornamental plants is subject to authorization. On the other hand, in Austria, poppy cultivation is a tradition that has long persisted. It is from here that the well-known variety “Waldviertler Graumohn” (Waldviertler gray poppy) originates. In the US, the cultivation of opium poppy is permitted, albeit the production of opiates is illegal. In Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Taiwan, the possession of opium is prohibited. In China, while the use of opium poppy as food is forbidden, it can be bought at West Indian markets.6
The opium poppy is an annual, herbaceous plant which reaches a height of 0.3–1.5 m. Its flowering splendor lasts only about 2 days, after which the purple, pink, or white flowers fall off again. The spherical capsule contains hundreds of seeds with colors ranging from white and yellow to gray blue and black blue.
The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is easily confused with the gossip poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and long-headed poppy (Papaver dubium). All contain alkaloids but in varying strengths. The opium poppy is hailed for the color of its flowers; a light purple on the outer petals with a darker violet pigment on the inside. The rest of the plant is blue-green.5 The common poppy is recognized by its purple-red flowers, which are rarely white or violet. It has bristle hairs that protrude from the stems. Long-headed poppies (blindeyes) vary in color from white to yellow to orange-red, and the stem is covered with coarse hairs.
The botanic term for the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is derived from the Latin word “somniferus,” which means “bringing sleep.” In Ancient Greece, poppies were given to children as sleeping aids.
Poppy seeds are not only suitable for human consumption, but they can also be used to enrich animal feed. Furthermore, poppy seed oil obtained from the opium poppy is used by the cosmetic industry in the production of skin creams and soaps.
The opium poppy is also known as the breadseed or garden poppy.13