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The 9 Best Similar Substitutes for Poppy Seeds

In this article, I’ll list the nine best similar substitutes for poppy seeds.

Some of the best similar substitutes for poppy seeds are toasted sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, chia seeds, nigella seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, mustard seeds, basil seeds, and amaranth. However, toasted sesame seeds are the best overall choice because they have the most similar flavor.

Let’s get started!

A bowl of poppy seeds

1. Toasted Sesame Seeds

Toasted sesame seeds (white sesame seeds) are the best choice to replace poppy seeds in any recipe because they provide a very similar light and nutty flavor. 

Untoasted sesame seeds will also work, but the flavor is much stronger when they’re toasted. As a result, untoasted sesame seeds do not taste as close in flavor as poppy seeds. Toasting them also adds an extra level of crunch that is similar to poppy seeds. 

How To Toast Sesame Seeds

You can purchase sesame seeds that are already toasted, but you don’t want to toast them twice, as they will easily burn. You can also toast black sesame seeds, but it will make their flavor very strong and slightly bitter, which many people might not enjoy. So, it’s important to start with raw white sesame seeds. 

Follow these steps on how to toast raw white sesame seeds:

  1. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add raw white sesame seeds (no oil).
  3. Stir or flip every 30 seconds to toast evenly and prevent burning.
  4. Remove from heat after 2-3 minutes.

Note: Take the seeds out of the pan immediately, as the residual heat will continue to cook them and may cause burning. 

2. Black Sesame Seeds

Black sesame seeds are another good choice, as they have a similar taste and texture to regular sesame seeds and poppy seeds. However, they have a stronger flavor with a slightly bitter note, so the taste is slightly less similar to poppy seeds than toasted white poppy seeds. 

If the look and texture of the dish are important, black sesame seeds make an excellent substitute because they have a stronger crunch and look more similar to poppy seeds because of their black color.

3. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are another great substitute that has a very similar nutty and slightly sweet taste to poppy seeds. However, they require an extra step that some may find inconvenient. 

Because they’re much larger than poppy seeds, you will need to grind them with a mortar and pestle to have a similar consistency. Once ground, they will bring the flavor of poppy seeds but not the appearance or the crunch. However, you can improve their crunch by toasting them very lightly before grinding. 

Hemp seeds make the best substitute in recipes that call for poppy seed fillings, such as Jewish-style dessert pastries like hamentashen or poppy/walnut rolls.

4. Nigella Seeds

Nigella seeds are a great substitute for poppy seeds in savory dishes. They have a good similarity in both appearance and flavor. However, nigellas have an onion-like taste, making them a poor choice for a substitute in pastries and other sweet recipes that call for poppy seeds. 

A bowl of nigella seeds

Additionally, Nigella seeds can be a little more challenging to find, as they are not typically sold at big-chain grocery stores. The best place to find them is at international markets or online. 

Nigella seeds are most commonly used in Indian cuisine. 

5. Chia Seeds

While chia seeds don’t have nearly as much flavor as poppy seeds, they do still make a good substitute because they look similar and have a really good crunch. They’re also easily the most nutritious and beneficial seed on this list, with high fiber, protein, and antioxidant content. 

However, use chia seeds with caution. They absorb moisture and will expand to many times their original size when mixed with liquids, resulting in gooey, chewy, or soggy textures. 

Chia seeds work best when applied to dry and fully cooked foods. For example, you can sprinkle them on top of cooked bread or muffins. 

Related How to Soak Chia Seeds in 5 Easy Steps.

6. Flax Seeds

Flax seeds are another good choice of substitute for poppy seeds if you’re looking for both crunch and nutritional value. They are second only to chia in health benefits! One oz (28.34 g) serving contains:

  • 4 g (0.14 oz) of fiber
  • 2.6 g (0.09 oz) of protein
  • 20% of the daily requirement for thiamine
  • 18% of the daily requirement for copper
  • 16% of the daily requirement for manganese
  • 14% of the daily requirement for magnesium

However, flax seeds are not ideal for recipes that require a strong poppy flavor. While they have a nice nutty flavor, they are very mild and cannot really compare to poppy seeds in strength.

Toasting the seeds can improve their flavor and will make them extremely crunchy. Even so, most people do not enjoy flax seeds as a garnish sprinkled on top of bread and pastries. 

Flax seeds are best used in recipes that require the seeds to be mixed into the dish. 

7. Mustard Seeds

Although mustard seeds are larger and pale yellow to white in color, they will provide both the flavor and the crunch to many recipes that call for poppy seeds. However, they have a more pungent, zingy flavor than poppy seeds, so you may wish to use less. 

Mustard seeds are also typically used in savory recipes and may not make the best substitute for traditional poppy seed pastries. However, they are sometimes added to cookies and cakes, such as oatmeal cookies and carrot cakes. 

8. Amaranth

Amaranth is a good substitute for poppy seeds because they have a similar flavor and texture. However, it is a little sweeter and a little less crunchy than poppy seeds. Toasting it can help, but beware because it will pop like corn kernels, resulting in a light and fluffy cereal-like texture. 

The good thing about amaranth is that it’s a healthy substitute, although you must eat them in higher volumes to get the most of its nutritional benefits. One cup (250g) of amaranth contains:

  • 9 g (0.31 g) of protein
  • 5 g (0.17 g) of fiber
  • 105% of the daily requirement for manganese  
  • 40% of the daily requirement for magnesium 
  • 36% of the daily requirement for phosphorus 
  • 29% of the daily requirement for iron 
  • 19% of the daily requirement for selenium
  • 18% of the daily requirement for copper 

9. Sweet Basil Seeds

While sweet basil seeds don’t contribute much in the way of flavor, they will provide the crunch and appearance of poppy seeds. They look very similar to black sesame seeds, and, like chia seeds, they are extremely high in fiber and nutrients. 

A bowl of sweet basil seeds

Here is a short list of their most notable nutritional values per one oz (28.34 g) serving:

  • 13 g (0.45 g) of fiber
  • 4 g (0.14 g) of protein
  • 3% of daily calcium
  • 5% of daily iron

Sweet basil seeds are typically used in the same recipes as chia seeds, as they will absorb water in much the same way. That means they are also not a good substitute for poppy seeds in wet recipes, as they will gel up and become gooey. However, they can be added to cooked bread, muffins, and other dry dishes as a topping.

Related The Key Differences Between Basil and Sweet Basil.

Why Poppy Seeds Are Used in Baking

You use poppy seeds in baking because they provide a delicious sweet, nutty, and slightly pungent flavor to both sweet and savory bakes. They provide crunch and visual interest for any dish. You can also use this versatile seed in dressings, sauces, pasta, and as a topping for just about anything. 

In addition, poppy seeds are quite nutritious, providing considerable health benefits, even in servings as small as one oz (28.34 g). In fact, such a serving contains:

  • 6 g (0.21 g) of fiber
  • 5 g (0.17 g) of protein 
  • 16% of the daily requirement for calcium
  • 10% of the daily requirement for iron

If eaten regularly, poppy seeds can help keep your bones and teeth healthy, improve circulation, strengthen the immune system, and support the growth of new cells.

Are Sesame Seeds and Poppy Seeds the Same? 

Sesame seeds and poppy seeds are not the same. They are similar in size and taste but come from different plants and have different nutritional values. Sesame seeds are typically white or pale yellow in color and teardrop shaped. Poppy seeds are black or dark blue in color and kidney-bean shaped. 

Sesame seeds come from the seed pods of the sesamum indicum plant, which likely originated in Asia or East Africa. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Romans used it for baking and other purposes.  

They also have more fiber and protein than poppy seeds per one oz (28.34 g) serving:

  • 4.8 g (0.16 g) of protein
  • 4.8 g (0.16 g) of fiber
  • 12% of daily Iron
  • 3% of daily calcium

Poppy seeds come from the papaver somniferum plant, otherwise known as the opium poppy. They were first cultivated in ancient Mesopotamia, or what is now the Southeast part of Asia (made up of Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries). 

They are also quite nutritious. 

Are Chia Seeds the Same As Poppy Seeds? 

Chia seeds are not the same as poppy seeds, though they look similar at first glance. They come from different plants, have different tastes and textures, and have different nutrition profiles. Poppy seeds contain iron and calcium, while chia seeds are high in fiber, protein, and omega-3s. 

Chia seeds are harvested from salvia hispanica, a plant native to Central America and known to have been a central part of ancient Mayan and Aztec diets. They are very popular today due to their impressive health benefits, including the following:

  • High antioxidants
  • 4 g (0.14 g) of protein 
  • 11 g (0.38 g) of fiber 
  • 18% of the daily requirement for calcium
  • 30% of the daily requirement for manganese
  • 24% of the daily requirement for magnesium

Poppy Seed Legaility in the US

Poppy seeds are allowed in the USA. In fact, they are sold legally in the US and many other countries. However, poppy plants are a schedule II controlled substance in the US because some parts of the plant can be used to make opiates like codeine, morphine, and other controlled substances. 

The commercially available seeds themselves do not contain enough opiates to have a noticeable effect on the human body. However, they can have traces of opiates left over on the surface of the seeds from processing, especially if they have not been washed. 

For this reason, it is possible to make tea from unwashed poppy seeds that have a mildly sedative and pain-relieving effect. It is also why consuming large quantities of poppy seeds can cause a positive result for opiates on drug tests.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

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