Poppyseeds (or poppy seeds) may be less than a millimeter in length but they play a large role when it comes to cuisine. Cultivated and harvested by the ancient Egyptian, Minoan and Sumerian civilizations as far back as the third millennium B.C. they have been pressed into ceremonial oils used in religious practices, cultivated for the flowers, and of course the latex from the poppy has been used to make opium for thousands of years, serving as a sleep aid, a pain killer and, infamously, less benign applications.
The tiny poppyseed shines as a decorative addition to bagels, muffins and pound cakes, and especially in Central and Eastern European cuisine, ground into a paste, form the filling of sweet pastries like the German monstollen, the Polish makowiec and the Slovak roll makonvik, and poppyseeds are practically synonymous with Jewish pastries especially around Passover and Purim, and are pretty much ubiquitous in Jewish delis everywhere.
In Indian and Pakistani cooking, poppyseeds are often ground and added to thicken traditional dishes like korma, not surprising when you consider that Pakistan is the world’s leading producer of poppyseed, with several countries in Europe producing the rest, explaining their presence of much of the cuisine. Poppyseeds also have other non food-related applications; in traditional Indian medicine they are ground into a paste, mixed with milk and used as a moisturizer, and pressed into an oil used for massage, and they have been proven to bemore accurate than “modern science” in diagnosing a vesicointestinal fistula via the “Poppy Seed Test”:
Simply put, if after ingesting a certain amount of poppyseeds mixed in yogurt, if the patient ends up with one or more seeds in their urine, they have a problem.
When it comes to the heroic little poppyseed, it is clear that very good things do indeed come in small packages. Not only is the tiny poppyseed delicious and a friend to the medical community, it is also highly nutritious, high in protein, fibre and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, iron and zinc.
So next time you are cooking a batch of muffins, or making a lemon pound cake, why not sprinkle a few teaspoons of this amazing little seed into the batch. They have been part of human development for a few thousand years and are way better for you than candy or chocolate sprinkles. Here is a recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake, one of the top selling desserts from Chez Piggy in Kingston Ontario, and the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea.
Chez Piggy’s Lemon Poppy Seed Cake Recipe
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup butter
1 tbsp butter, softened
1/4 cup milk
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar, granulated
1/3 cup lemon juice
- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl. Add in butter and beat with a mix till blended. In another bowl, combine milk, large eggs and vanilla. Beat into flour/butter mix till very well combined. Stir in poppy seeds and lemon peel.
- Transfer batter to buttered, floured 9 cup bundt pan or tube pan. Bake in preheated 325F oven for 1 1/4 hrs. Cool 10 min and turn cake on to serving platter. Stir up a simple glaze and drizzle over top and sides of hot cake.