These fantastic little seeds offer flavor and character to savory dishes just as well as sweet.

By David McCann
Updated March 02, 2020
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I’m betting that most of you have a bottle of little blue seeds gathering dust in your spice rack.

First things first. Those are poppy seeds and if they’ve been sitting there for as long as I think they probably have, you need to toss them. Poppy seeds go “off” quite easily...especially if they are in a warm place. Most of us keep our spices near the stove and there couldn’t be a worse place, but that’s a discussion for another time. Just know that, from here on out, you should stash poppy seeds in the freezer.

If we think of poppy seeds at all, most of us think of them in a sweet context: a cupcake, a muffin, a cookie, or a quick bread. But I have recently started playing with them in a savory way. And I’m very excited to report to you that a savory context may even be better than a sweet one. Here are a few ways to make delicious use of your poppy seeds for tonight’s dinner.

Buttered Egg Noodles

This discovery started as a trip down memory lane. I remember having these frequently as a child. Just toss hot egg noodles with butter (or brown butter, YUM) that you’ve melted with some poppy seeds. The only danger with these will be trying not to eat the whole pan by yourself in a single sitting.

Cooked Carrots

I realize that a LOT of people believe they don’t like cooked carrots. I attribute that feeling to frozen peas ‘n’ carrots or, heaven forbid, canned carrots in childhood. However, I’m going to suggest you try cooking some fresh, maybe even farmer’s market-sourced, carrots with some butter and poppy seeds. The little bit of bitter they bring to the party will help tame the sometimes overwhelming sweetness of the (peeled) carrots. Just take care not to overcook them.

Sauteed Asparagus

I had some beautiful asparagus the other day, and wanted something a little different, so I added poppy seeds to the butter that I was using to saute the asparagus. Not sure how best to describe the flavor of this combo other than wow.

Sauced Chicken Breasts

Anytime I’m saucing chicken breasts, one of the options is always sour cream. And poppy seeds and sour cream are a match made in heaven. And even if you don’t want to go the sour cream route, some poppy seeds and butter are a great sauce on their own. Of course, there’s also the classic poppy seed chicken casserole to consider, if you want to take this flavor combination to an extra-comfy place.

(You may be sensing a common thread here so far: butter. Yes, poppy seeds and butter were made for one another. And always remember, if you’re saucing a dish for 4-6 people and you use 2 tablespoons of butter to do so, that really is hardly any butter at all per person. Just sayin’...)

Salad Dressing

Make your favorite simple vinaigrette—and add poppy seeds. It’s so easy, and crazy good. And, I’m going to suggest that this poppy seed vinaigrette will also be a welcome addition to grilled salmon.

These are, obviously, not the only things to do with these gorgeous little seeds. But you get the idea: experiment. The crunch alone is worth it. And beyond the crunch, they bring kind of a deep almost mysterious flavor to the party. A little bitter, but not too bitter. Almost indescribable... in a really good way, as if the dish all of a sudden feels ancient or from another place and time. As you can probably tell, I’m really getting into the je ne sais quoi that poppy seeds bring to savory dishes these days.

Oh, and don’t worry, regardless of internet rumors, you will not fail the drug test at your office should you decide to also make poppyseeds a more prominent ingredient in your cooking.