Poppy seeds are a hugely versatile ingredient

July 03 2013

Food service operators will undoubtedly have a wide range of herbs and spices in mind as go-to ingredients when they want to give a recipe an unusual and distinctive twist. It's amazing what a little herb here or a dash of spice there can do to transform a recipe to something new and exciting.

Indeed, this is exactly the kind of thing that can set a restaurant apart from the crowd, but there is no need to limit your innovation pantry to traditional herbs and spices.. For instance, the humble poppy seed has an incredibly diverse range of uses and is a popular addition to a wide variety of dishes from all over the world.

The poppy seed is an oilseed that is harvested from the opium poppy. The seeds are generally considered to have a pleasant and faintly nutty flavour - and they can be used either in their original form, or as a paste. If used as seeds, it is advisable to toast them lightly just before they are used in order to release the best of the flavour.

As a paste, poppy seeds - which can easily be ground down using a standard pestle and mortar - can be used for bread-based foods such as rolls or croissants.

This bread is easily made by mixing together the usual ingredients for bread together with the seeds. This can work particularly well in a crusty loaf for that gourmet feel. It could also make the ideal accompaniment to a soup starter, which would really help your restaurant to stand out with an authentic and rustic touch.

If you'd prefer to make a sweeter bread - possibly as a light dessert offering - then why not try throwing ingredients such as eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and almond flavouring to the mix, which could achieve an effective variant on a basic cake bread.

However, poppy seeds also have a wide range of uses in main meals - and particularly cuisine from the far east.

British celebrity chefs Dave Myers and Simon King - better known for their onscreen personas as the Hairy Bikers - recommended a recipe for poppy seed tempura with soba noodles and dipping sauce in their television show The Hairy Bikers' Cook Off.

This is a Japanese-influenced dish that can be prepared very quickly - and it could be ideal to adapt this to the hectic environment of a professional kitchen.

It is essentially a stir-fry that involves mixing together flour and cornflour with salt and poppy seeds. This is then heated over oil and whisked with sparkling water until it forms a smooth batter.

Pieces of meat or vegetables - depending on what options you want to offer for the dish - can then be added to this mix and fried until they turn golden brown. This tempura is then served with noodles and dipping sauce.

Another common use for poppy seeds is in Indian dishes like kormas and masalas, as the ingredient can add thickness and texture to the sauces.