Poppy seeds: gray gold from the Waldviertel

In the Austrian Waldviertel, where poppy seeds are grown on a large scale, the landscape blooms in beautiful red in springtime. Poppy cultivation has a long tradition here. Poppy cultivation in the Waldviertel dates back to the 13th century. 

Monks brought the “gray gold” from the Mediterranean to the Waldviertel and used it as a medicinal plant and for the production of poppy seed oil, which “nourished the eternal light” in the churches. As the seeds thrived on the barren soils of the Waldviertel, poppy seeds quickly became an important staple food in the region.

Poppy: gray gold from the Waldviertel

Until 1934, Waldviertler Graumohn was even listed on the London Stock Exchange. Later imports from the east brought the Waldviertel poppy cultivation to a standstill. It was only in the 80s that people began to think about the old cultivated plant and some farmers started growing again.

Stimulating and pain relieving

Poppy has been known to mankind for a long time. On clay tablets of the Sumerians already 4000 years BC. the medical application with opium, the extract from the milk sap of the opium poppy, is described. Even today, Papaver somniferum is the most important pain reliever. In ancient times, it was believed that poppies grew out of Aphrodite’s tears when she mourned Adonis.

Everything that had to do with Aphrodite is still considered an aphrodisiac to this day.

Aphrodisiacs promote blood circulation, stimulate the nerves, or influence the release of hormones (e.g. testosterone). Today we know that the papaverine contained in poppy seeds increases the urge to blood in the erectile tissue of the penis and thus promotes potency. Because of the abundance of seeds in the poppy seed capsules, poppy seeds have always been a symbol of fertility.

The Roman soldiers also consumed grated poppy seeds with honey to strengthen themselves and to make them insensitive to pain.

And those who nibble as much of the poppy seed cake as possible on New Year’s Eve will have enough money all year round from this grain-rich dish. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Varieties and ingredients

Depending on the color of the seeds, poppy seeds are divided into three types:

  • Blue poppy seed : has a tart and intense aroma and goes particularly well with spicy poppy seed dishes
  • Gray poppy : its seeds are very tender and mild and are therefore well suited for sweet pastries, it is mainly grown and used in the Austrian Waldviertel
  • White poppy seeds : a rare variety that is ideal for desserts and sweet preparations due to its nutty taste

Poppy seeds contain around 42% fat and belong to the food group nuts and seeds, which are generally high in fat. Although poppy seeds are not particularly rich in vitamins, they do have other valuable ingredients such as the amino acids leucine and lysine. 

This makes poppy seeds very suitable in combination with cereals and potatoes because it increases the biological value of the existing protein. The seeds also contain plenty of minerals, such as iron, which the body needs for oxygen transport in the blood, or calcium, which we need for bone formation and blood clotting. Phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium are also contained in poppy seeds.

Poppy seeds and its uses

The uses of poppy seeds are versatile. The easiest way is to simply sprinkle it over a finished dish, e.g. pastries, or for breading fish or meat. The most common use is ground poppy seeds. It can be used for various pastries (poppy seed noodles, yeast dumplings, stollen, etc.).

Ideally, poppy seeds are always bought unground and only ground shortly before use, as contact with air can quickly oxidize the fat and quickly become rancid. Ground poppy seeds can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days or frozen for about a month if there is no air. Food processors (with a suitable attachment), a poppy seed grinder or a mortar are suitable for processing poppy seeds or for grinding. The grinder should be cleaned thoroughly after grinding poppy seeds so that no oily residues become rancid.

These residues could affect the taste in a later grinding process. If you do not want to or cannot grind poppy seeds yourself, you should use commercially available poppy seeds that have already been ground. After grinding, it is heated and packed airtight in a protective atmosphere.

A delicious cooking oil is also obtained from poppy seeds by cold pressing. This so-called “white poppy seed oil” with its intense, nutty taste is suitable for refining salads, raw food dishes and soups. It is rich in linoleic acid (60-70%), an essential fatty acid that the body cannot produce itself and must therefore be ingested through food. Poppy seed oil should not be heated above 170 ° C, so it is only partially suitable for cooking and baking. The very best paints, soaps and ointments are made from dried poppy seed oil.

Poppy seeds – a risk?

The highly effective opium alkaloid morphine originally contained in the milky sap of poppy seeds, which has a drowsy and addictive effect, was bred from the poppy seeds. There are now low-morphine varieties with large grains for baking and oil extraction.

Codeine, another opium alkaloid that is used as a cough suppressant, is significantly less addictive. The very small amounts contained in the poppy seeds pose no health risk. Nevertheless, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is cautious and recommends caution against excessive poppy consumption by pregnant women and small children. 

The reason is due to the new industrial harvesting techniques, which squeeze the poppy seed pods and cause contamination with the leaking milky sap. Milky sap and the traces of morphine it contains can affect the cardiovascular system and impair breathing. 

The trigger for this recommendation was a case of poisoning with threatened respiratory arrest in a 6-week-old baby who had been given milk from its mother to sleep through. Please refrain from such “home remedies”.

However, poppy seeds in small quantities are not harmful, on the contrary, due to the ingredients already mentioned, it is even very beneficial to health.

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