What Are Poppy Seeds and What Do They Taste Like?

When I was in high school, there was a rumor going around that if you ate enough poppy seeds, you could get high. Some people tried it but the only poppy seeds they had access to were in the muffins from the cafeteria, leading them to just get sick from too many muffins. This is what idiot 16-year-old boys do. But there’s more to learn about poppy seeds aside from whether or not they’ll cause you to fail a drug test. Let’s dive in. 

What are poppy seeds?

Poppy seeds are tiny, black seeds from the fruit of the opium poppy, scientific name Popaver somniferum. Notice the Latin root somnum which means sleep? That’s because the same plant that produces the poppy seed also produces opium, a naturally occurring sedative that contains morphine. When the skin of a seed pod is lacerated, it oozes out a milky substance which, when dried, is harvested and used for both legal and illegal enterprises.

Opium dates back to the Stone Age, and it’s been used throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East for its medicinal properties. Over time, folks started using it for recreational use and abusing it, to the point where it was banned and heavily regulated in most places. Today, synthetic opioids have all but replaced the natural stuff.

So, the seeds in the poppy pods probably also have opium in them, right? I’m afraid to burst the bubble of my high school classmates, but they don’t. They do, however, get opium on their outsides due to their proximity to those juices. But poppy seeds that are used commercially generally are well washed, removing any opium residue from them. 

Where do poppy seeds come from?

The majority of poppy seed production occurs in Czechia (aka the Czech Republic), accounting for 31% of all global production as of 2023, followed up by Turkey, Spain, Hungary, and France. An important distinction: This is where the seeds are coming from. It does not account for the cultivation of poppies for illicit purposes. That happens in other countries that I won’t list; do your own research ya freaks.

How do you harvest poppy seeds?

After a poppy plant blooms and the petals fall off, there is a remaining pod which is chock full of seeds. The pods are harvested and dried for several days. They are then split open and the seeds can be removed. If stored properly, poppy seeds can retain their flavor for over a year.

What does a poppy seed taste like?

It’s often hard to distinguish the flavor of a poppy seed because we are often consuming them in and on baked goods like cakes, muffins, bagels, and bread, or in things like Sporked’s favorite coleslaw dressing. Texturally, they are great; they add an appealing crunch to things that otherwise wouldn’t have one.

But don’t let this fool you; even though it is subtle, there is flavor there. The seeds are slightly nutty, almost like almonds, with a bit of sweetness. Their combination of flavor and texture make them my favorite bagel topper.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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