The poppy seed (Papaver somniferum) is a tiny, kidney shaped seed from the poppy flower. It has been cultivated for some 3,000 years throughout Asia, Asia Minor and parts of the Middle East for food seasonings and as a medicinal herb.
There are two major varieties of the poppy seed. The blue variety is a common seasoning in European baking, while the white variety is used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Despite differences in appearance, there is only slight variation in flavor between the two.
Although the poppy is sometimes grown for its opiate properties, culinary poppy seeds are allowed to mature, leaving them devoid of opiates at the time of harvest. When used for food seasonings, poppy seeds only add a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and aroma to any dish. The warm flavor grows more pronounced and a bit spicier when a dish featuring poppy seeds is exposed to heat.
Poppy seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, making them a healthful choice for organic seasonings. They can be used whole or crushed, though they are difficult to grind unless first roasted.
Poppy seeds are used as food seasonings in a variety of ways throughout the world. In Western cuisine, they flavor baked goods, such as breads and cakes, while they are ground and used to thicken sauces and curries in Indian and Turkish foods. European and Slavic cuisine uses poppy seeds to season fish, vegetable and noodle dishes.
The western variety of the poppy seed has also been used a medicinal herb, both as a pain reliever and expectorant. Infusions of the seeds have been used in traditional medicine to soothe ear and toothaches.
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