The Highs and Lows of Poppy Seeds
A few weeks ago, while diligently following a recipe for a poppy seed cake, I gathered up a cup of black poppy seeds and, as the recipe directed, I put them in the coffee grinder and pulverized them for 30 seconds. That can’t be right? Poppy seeds, already the Lilliputian of the seed world making sesame seeds look like relative footballs, are just about microscopically small already. What were a few twirls of the grinder blade going to do for the miniscule poppy seed? The answer was simply; grind them down to bring out the flavor.
Before we continue talking about poppy seeds we need to address the elephant in the room: Yes, the myth is true. The consumption of poppy seeds on a bagel, or in a muffin or cake, can result in a false positive on a drug test. This is not because poppy seeds are at all intoxicating. It is simply because the poppy seeds originate from the poppy flower, which is a known (and well-exploited) opiate. But just for the record; no matter how many poppy seeds you eat, you will not get high. You may fail your drug test, but you assuredly will not get high.
Poppy seeds are an oilseed harvested from the dried seedpods of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). They are an ingredient that comes with a generous amount of history and pedigree. Eastern Europeans have been cooking with poppy seeds and poppy seed paste for hundreds of years, as have the Jews and Indians. The upcoming Jewish holiday Purim celebrates, among other things, poppy seed pastries by the truckload.
My relative ignorance is shameful and revealing, as poppy seeds are quite commonly ground into a paste. When ground into a paste they reveal an earthy and sweet quality that is not always apparent with whole seeds. They can be used in sweet or savory dishes and lend, not just texture, but a visual spark to pastas and, of course, baked goods. And although they are high in oil content (which means they can easily go rancid unless they are refrigerated) they are still reasonably healthy, as well as rich in magnesium, calcium and fiber.
But beware, as I discovered after my poppy seed cake, that poppy seeds are notoriously prone to finding those hard to reach spots between your teeth (or even between your teeth and gums) and finding a home. Stock up on floss when you are stocking up on poppy seeds and all will be swell in the world.