(Last Updated on : 06/01/2009)
Bearing the botanical name as being Papaver somniferum Linn and the family name as Papaveraceae, poppy seeds can be defined as the small nutty-tasted, blue-grey seeds inside the capsules on Papaver somniferum, a yellowish-brown opium plant, wholly aboriginal to the Mediterranean. Poppy seed is actually the dried seed version of Papaver somniferum, with the appearance of an erect yearly herb. The plant grows up to a length of 30-150 cm, with the stem being 0.5-1.5 cm in thickness. The stem of the herb bears the essential properties of being shiny and smooth to being almost hairless with thick waxen coating. White poppy seeds are often referred to as being 'Indian', due to their absolute and all-encompassing featuring in these countries' a la carte. Blue poppy, on the contrary, seeds are looked at as being strictly 'European' poppies.
The centre of origin of poppy seeds is intriguingly attributed to the Western Mediterranean region of Europe, which took but only less time to spread into the Orient. Poppy seeds were known to the Greeks and through spice tradings as well as expedition routes by way of the now-legendary Silk Route, reached ancient India by the 7th century. In the 19th century, Europeans were manifestly trafficking in opium as a money-spinning business proposition, which had become even more trade-friendly due to British Raj and supremacy upon India.
In contemporary India, the poppy cultivation takes place on the Himalayan foothills and the low lying hills flanking beside, making the northern sub-Himalayan plain one of the richest areas for opium manufacture. Opium and poppy seeds however not only did fascinate traders and culinary artists, the herb, its fruit and seeds have also been profound enough to be connected with literature and literary masters.
Poppy seeds are presently acknowledged in various indigenous Indian names, which can very much be stated as follows - Kaskash in Hindi; Posta in Bengali; Khuskhush in Gujarati; Khasksi in Kannada; Kashakasha in Malayalam; Khus Khus in Marathi; Posta, Apu manji in Oriya; Khus Khus, Khas Khas in Punjabi; Khasa, Khaksa in Sanskrit; Gashagasha, Kaqsakasa in Tamil; Kasakasa, Gasagasla and Gasalu in Telugu; Kashkash Safaid in Urdu.
In India, poppy with white seeds has been cultivated for several years for the production of seed under license in Dehra Dun and Tehri Garhwal districts of Uttarakhand and in Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hosiarpur and Patiala districts of Punjab. Poppy seed is best cultivated in temperate to sub-tropical region and requires well-drained, vastly fertile, light black cotton soil, possessing first-rate percentage of fine sand. In India, the plant serves as a licensed crop, since the latex of the mature fruit are collected for the production of opium, a narcotic substance. Poppy seeds are however cultivated in parts of north eastern India, especially interior districts like Ukhrul in Manipur etc., and some of the other places. Officially under legal license, the herb is cultivated in Varanasi region of Uttar Pradesh and in few selected states.
The seed of the poppy fruit is recognised as a brilliant spice, as well as a much admired food item. But, the poppy plant is better rather notorious for the mass as a soporific and sedative plant. The gum from the fruit is identified as 'Opium', that is ill-famed for addiction intentions. As a matter of fact, the growers grow the plant for opium exclusively, that fetches them greater value than its seed, poppy.
A poppy seed is indeed very tough to grind. If one does not possess a special poppy seed grinder, it is best to first softly roast the seeds and use a mortar and pestle. They can be used either whole or mashed in cooking and bakery utilisations. When using poppy seeds with uncooked food, such as salads, it is advised to roast them lightly first, as this reinforces their tang and aroma. When poppy seeds are utilised for pastry making, they are covered with boiling water and allowed to lay still for one to three hours before grinding.
The white poppy seeds utilised indigenously in India, are much small in size.
An analysis of seeds from five types of Indian poppy gave the succeeding ranges of values:
Moisture: 4.3 to 5.2 %
Protein: 22.3 to 24.4 %
Ether extract: 46.5 to 49.1 %
Nitrogen free extract: 11.7 to 14.3 %
Fibre: 4.8 to 5.8 %
Total ash: 5.6 to 6.0 %
Calcium: 1.03 to 1.45 %
Phosphorus: 0.79 to 0.89 %
Iron: 8.5 to 11.1 mg/100 gram.
Poppy seeds are also known to yield thiamine, riboflavin and nicotinic acid considerably, however with conscious absence of carotene. Presence of small quantities of minerals such as iodine, manganese, copper, magnesium and zinc can also be witnessed. The seeds also contain lecithin (2.80 %), oxalic acid (1.62 %), pentosans (3.0 to 3.6 %), traces of narcotine and an amorphous alkaloid and the enzymes diastase, emulsin, lipase and nuclease. Poppy seeds possess a high protein content, the major component being a globulin, which accounts for 55 % of the total nitrogen.
The amino acid make up of the globulin is similar to that of the whole seed protein and can be stated as follows (g/11g N):
The proteins of poppy seeds are however significantly deficient in lysine and methionine. At 10 % level of intake, they possess a biological value of 57.9 % and a digestibility coefficient of 81 %. Poppy seeds, however it may be legendary for its ill or beneficial effects, does possess a class of its own. As such, uses of poppy seeds are known to be aplenty, with a normal everyday household harnessing its usage in both the spheres of medicine and culinary arts.