The poppy plant (Papaver somniferum) is the source of one of the most loved pastry ingredient in my home country: poppy seeds. Our love for poppy seeds has come that far that we use it in numerous cakes and pastries, we appreciate poppy seed oil (used as both a culinary and a medicinal oil) and we even make milk out of it.
Poppy seeds come in three different colours: white, blue and black. Blue seeds are commonly called the European poppy seeds ( most commonly used) because they are abundant in that part of the world, while white poppy seeds are called Indian, Middle Eastern or Asian. There are no distinct differences between these types aside from their colour, although I have found that white poppy seeds are much more expensive than the European variety.
The poppy plant, a small red flower, is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region but is now grown widely throughout eastern Asia and many parts of Europe. Poppy seeds have been found in Egyptian relics dating from 2500 BC and the poppy has been a symbol of death and rebirth since these times: it grows in the fields, is cut with the harvest and always returns the following year. It is breath-taking to see fields full of poppies here in Provence every spring.
Although some countries ban the cultivation and the distribution of this crop because it is the source of opium, it would be a pity to abstain from using this ingredient as it provides numerous health benefits.
Health Benefits of Poppy Seeds
Each serving of poppy seeds contains a considerable amount of linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that offer protection against heart disease. Poppy seeds contain both iron and phosphorus, minerals essential for the maintenance of both muscles and bones. Eating poppy seeds also prevents constipation and other digestive problems as these seeds are naturally high in dietary fiber. They are also an excellent source of calcium, iron and magnesium , minerals needed by the body to regulate brain activity and the development of neurons. They also aid in the production of neurotransmitters. The abundance of copper and iron in poppy seeds improves red blood cell formation, which helps in the prevention of anemia and other blood-related conditions. Poppy seed oil helps deal with sleeplessness - taking a teaspoon of this oil before going to bed has been observed to help ease the symptoms of insomnia by promoting relaxation. However, poppy seed oil is not suitable for small children.