Saturday 14 October 2006

opium bliss: orange & poppy seed cake

There’s an urban legend that if you eat poppy seeds the day before you do a drug test your results will show positive for opiates.

Unlike most urban legends, this one is true.

The American TV show, MythBusters, proved that eating poppy seeds can show false-positive results on a variety of different drug testing kits. During these trials, after eating a whole poppy seed cake a man tested positive just 30 minutes later. Another ate three poppy seed bagels and was positive 2hrs afterwards. They remained positive for another 18hrs!

The reason for this is that the poppy seeds we use for cooking are the dried seeds of the Papaver somniferum, also known as the Opium Poppy. Although opiates are made from the unripe pods of this particular poppy, the seeds also contain minute traces.

No wonder my orange and poppy seed cake tastes so damn good! I always feel so ecstatic after eating a few pieces :)

Jonas has perfected this cake as well and it’s one of our favourites. It is very moist, extremely moreish and served with a dollop of double cream is absolutely wonderful in spring, summer, autumn or winter!

Orange & Poppy Seed Cake
Recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly Cooking Classic Cakes. Serves 16.

1/3 cup (50g) poppy seeds
¼ cup (60ml) milk
185g softened butter
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1½ cups (225g) self raising flour
½ cup (75g) plain flour
½ cup (60g) almond meal
½ cup (125ml) orange juice
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup (250ml) orange juice
1. Position oven shelves and reheat oven to 180’C. Grease deep 22cm round cake tin. Line base and sides with baking paper.
2. Combine poppy seeds and milk in a small bowl. Stand 20 mins.
3. With electric beaters, beat butter, orange rind and sugar in a small bowl until light and fluffy. 4. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until just combined.
5. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Using wooden spoon, stir in flours, almond meal, juice and poppy seed mixture.
6. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour.
7. Meanwhile, to make suryip combine orange jucie and sugar in a saucepan over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered without stirring, for 2 minutes. Pour into heatproof jug.
8. Stand cake 5 minutes then turn onto wire rack over oven tray, top side up. Pour hot syrup over cake. Return any syrup from drip tray to jour and repour over cake.
Variation: orange can be substituted with any citrus fruit. Almond and vanilla essence can replace citrus.
Note: Cake can be kept in an airtight container, with or without syrup, for up to 2 days.

Poppies probably came from the Mediterranean and although their use by humans predates written history, there are images found in Sumerian objects from 4000 BCE and records show the Egyptians were crushing them for cooking oil in 1500 BCE.

Opium poppies were already known in Ancient Greece and it was the Greeks that named them thus. In ancient times opium was used for asthma, poor eye sight and digestive ills. In South Asia and the Middle East, poppy seeds are considered highly nutritious, especially for pregnant women.

Opium had become so important and influential in many societies that China and the British Empire went head to head in the mid-1800s in the Opium Wars and a variety of Western books would never have originated without its influence, for instance L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Poppy seeds are kidney shaped, a beautiful blue-grey-black colour and have a very nutty flavour. They can be used in breads, muffins, cakes and also added to salads and vegetables.

Poppy seed is produced all over the world, with the most notable production coming from the Netherlands, Australia and Turkey. Dutch poppy seeds are considered the highest quality.

Poppy flowers have around 6 petals and come in a huge variety of colours. According to Wikipedia, these are the various poppy genera:
- Meconopsis (Himalayan poppy, Welsh poppy and relatives)
- Papaver (Iceland poppy, Oriental poppy, Opium poppy, corn poppy and about 120 other species)
- Romneya (Matilija poppy and relatives)
- Eschscholzia (California poppy and relatives)

Unfortunately the beautiful ornamental qualities of the poppies are irrelevant to drug authorities. In most countries any part of the opium poppy, other than the seeds, are deemed illegal to obtain and cultivation of the seeds is highly regulated. Allegedly, in Singapore even poppy seeds are banned due to the negligible opiate content. Singaporeans – is this true?

According to Wikipedia, the myth that Opium Poppies can be grown from the edible seeds is also true and if you wanted to be a really naughty you could grown your own Opium Poppies from the pack you bought at the grocery store. Soon you’ll have pretty pink flowers and green pods with significant amounts of opium.

The poppy used by Americans, Canadians and Australians to commemorate fallen soldiers is not the same poppy that gives us morphine and seeds. The remembrance poppy is the red corn poppy or Papaver rhoeas.

The host for this Weekend Herb Blogging is Sher from What Did You Eat? If you feel like reading about recipes for other herbs, please check out Sher's round-up.

References & photo sources:



  1. Great photos of the poppy seeds. I learned a lot from this. I didn't know there were different types of poppies, although of course it makes sense that there are. I like poppy seeds a lot, especially in salad dressing.

  2. I can't wait to try this. Thanks for the recipe.

  3. I love opium and cake.


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