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Poppy Seed

What is it?

Poppy seeds (Khuskhus) are very small and there are two varieties, blue and white. In Europe we mostly use the blue variety for topping on bread and cakes and the like, Indians mostly use the white variety although in taste and texture they are very similar. The blue seeds are slightly larger than the white which really are very tiny (it takes about 3½ thousand to make 1 gram) and if you look very closely they are kidney shaped. The flavour is a sweet and slightly spicy, nutty taste.


The plant is the same as that used to produce opium and was probably originally native to the Middle East. It was known to the Sumerian civilization anything up to 7000 years ago, and they are mentioned in the literature of many ancient civilizations as a medicine to aid sleep; the botanical name Papaver somniferum means sleep inducing poppy. There were some cultures who believed it gave powers of invisibility, but this is probably not true.

Historically, poppy has also been grown for opium which comes from the milky latex surrounding the unripe seeds. Poppy seeds do contain very small quantities of the narcotic drug, but if you are growing poppies for the seeds then all the latex that contains the drug is gone by the time the plant is ripe.


Although there is little difference, I only use white poppy seeds in Indian cooking. The seeds are used as a spice and as a constituent of curry powder and should be lightly roasted in a dry frying pan before grinding.

They are also used as a thickening agent; they are ground down and mixed with liquid to form a paste that thickens curries and sauces and adds texture. The paste is also used for filling pastries and is commercially available (mixed with sugar and milk).

I have used the whole seeds mixed into naan and roti (which i guess is similar to its use in bread), and the whole seeds are also used in chutneys.

The seeds have a high oil content and are therefore used to make oil that can be used both commercially and for cooking, it is a bit like olive oil. It is pale yellow in colour but fades to almost clear in sunlight. The high oil content can also make the seeds go off more quickly than other spices, so buy smaller quantities and keep in a cool place.


They are full of protein and are very digestible; they also contain B group vitamins and many minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorus and other trace elements. They are also very low on the allergenic scale.

It is said that the seeds ease fevers and stomach pains, that they promote appetite and are a good aid to digestion. A type of tea made from the seeds is used to cure toothache. They are also being investigated as a source of cancer curing drugs.

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