The tiny, gray-black, ripe seeds of Papaver somniferum are used in baking. Unripe poppy seeds have narcotic qualities, and opium is extracted from the unripe seed capsules. Not surprisingly, the cultivation of these poppies is prohibited in the United States, so any poppy seeds you buy here will be imported. Poppy seeds have a high oil content that makes them susceptible to rancidity, and when you add this factor to the shipping time, freshness can be a problem.
Buy poppy seeds in bulk from a purveyor with a steady turnover, such as a central European delicatessen or Middle East or Indian grocer (poppy seeds are used in the cuisines of the East, too). Poppy seeds in tiny jars from the supermarket are likely to be prohibitively expensive and rancid. Store poppy seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freeze them for up to 6 months. Always give poppy seeds a good sniff before using to check for any hint of rancidity. Otto’s European Import Store is a great place to buy reasonably priced poppy seeds by mail order (see Sources).
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