Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Adar 5759 - Feb 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















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Poppy Seed
by Rivka Tal

Poppy seed plays a starring role not only on Purim, but on other occasions in our mesora. We are told that while living in Achashverosh's palace, Queen Esther did not want to defile herself by eating forbidden food. Poppy and other seeds constituted her diet. We eat seeds on Purim as a reminder. Similarly, in Daniel we read that during their stay in the royal palace in Bavel, Chananya, Mishoel and Azarya were similarly nourished through the consumption of seeds only. We find mention of the edible plant, pereg, in Maseches Shvi'is 2 and 7.

Poppy seed, mohn, in Yiddish, is a play on words with our Purim homon-tashen, or `mohn-pockets,' an inevitable part of our shalach monos. The reason for these `hidden' treats is the same as to why we eat kreplach on Purim: because of the covered, hidden miracle that occurred.

The poppy has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Scholars argue about the origin of this mysterious and strikingly beautiful herb. Some sources claim Asia as its original habitat, others, the Mediterranean region. Recent research seems to point at central and southern Europe as its first home, from where it is believed to have spread throughout the world.

One species of poppy is used for the production of opium, a dangerous, addictive drug prohibited by law. Morphine, however, used to alleviate the most severe pain, is also derived from the poppy plant. Throughout the generations, variations of poppy have been developed that contain the maximum number of seeds while lessening the possibilities for use as dangerous drugs. Poppy is cultivated in most parts of the world that have a temperate climate. It grows in Holland, Australia, Romania and Turkey. The Dutch variation, with its uniform slate, blue-gray color, is considered to be the best.

The small seeds of the poppy flower - which grows wild, red, in Israel, by the way, and is a protected species - are extremely tiny, measuring less than 1/16 inch in diameter. It takes about 900,000 of them to equal a pound! Their color varies from black, blue-gray to beige and brown, which are more commonly available in Asian or Middle Eastern markets. Flowers also come in blue and purple.

Common in the Western European kitchen, poppy seed is sold whole or ground. Its crunchy texture and nutty flavor are enjoyed around the world. They can be purchased whole or ground. Because of their high oil content, all poppy seeds are prone to rancidity. They should, therefore, be stored, airtight, in the refrigerator and can keep for up to 6 months. In any case, they should be checked before use.

There is a vast difference between the plastic bags sold in the supermarket and poppy seed ground before your eyes. Try buying it fresh in spice specialty stores, especially around Purim time, and you will notice the difference.

The seeds can be used in a myriad of ways: to sprinkle on or decorate baked goods (especially challos), as well as an integral ingredient in bread, rolls, cakes and cookies. A rich filling, made of ground poppy seed in harmony with sweet ingredients can not only fill homontashen, but other baked goods like yeast cakes and strudels.

Sauces with butter, margarine or white cheese with whole poppy seed add a subtle hint of nutty flavor to rice or noodle dishes. Various vegetables such as carrot, squash, cabbage or potatoes, along with your favorite fish recipe, can also benefit from poppy seed sauce. Let's not forget to mention the honey- poppy seed sauce for fruit salad. Poppy seeds are used in a wide variety of exotic dishes in the Middle East and India.

Purim Somayach!


Very good for shalach monos. Three small cakes can be made at one time. They will fit onto an Israeli size oven tray and can be baked together to speed up production.


1 cup unsalted margarine, room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

3 tablespoons ground poppy seed, checked

3 cups flour, sifted

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups orange or white grape juice

For optional frosting:

1 cup powdered sugar

4 tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon almond extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 3 disposable 17 by 23 cm. aluminmum baking pans.

2. Cream sugar and eggs until light. Add extracts and poppy seed and mix well.

3. Stir together flour and baking powder in separate bowl. Add to first mixture alternately with liquid. Mix only until thoroughly combined.

4. Pour evenly into prepared pans. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cakes pass the toothpick test. Let cool before frosting.

4. For optional frosting: combine powdered sugar and orange juice in a small pan over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Mix in extract and pour over cakes.


Light, fluffy and delicate.


1 cup margarine

1/2 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

white sugar


1. Cream margarine, sugar and egg yolks. Add flour, salt, poppy seeds and vanilla. Mix well.

2. Chill dough, covered for one hour.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets.

4. Form dough into teaspoon sized balls. Place on cookie sheet and dip the bottom of a juice glass into sugar and press balls flat. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Yield: 4 dozen delicious cookies.


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