Let's Eat

Why poppy seeds are perfect for Purim — and seven delicious recipes worth celebrating

The tiny black seeds may be more than just the filling for our favourite Purim treat


Photo: Inbal Bar-Oz

Love them or hate them, poppy seeds are the most traditional Ashkenazi hamantaschen filling and one of Purim’s signature ingredients.

The tiny blue black or grey seeds were said to be on Queen Esther’s menu (together with other nutritious nuts and seeds) while she lived in King Ahasuerus’ palace. The reason being that our heroine’s vegan diet allowed her to keep kosher as inconspicuously as possible.

She was also supposed to have exclusively eaten the mini morsels during a three-day fast she undertook before she went to see the King to beg him to save the Jews.

And the poppy seed may be behind the true provenance Purim’s triangular treats — with hamantaschen actually coming from either “ha-man” - Hebrew for “the manna” — or “ha-Mon” — Mohn being the German (and ‘mon’ or ‘man’ the Yiddish) word for poppy seed. And not, as we tend to believe, a likeness of Haman’s ears, pockets or even his hat in cookie form.

Here in the UK, we tend to relegate poppy seeds to a crunchy (messy) challah or bagel topping. 

But in eastern and central Europe they often take centre stage — eaten as a sweet filling - sometimes mixed with nuts - for cakes, strudels and buns. Or ground and mixed with icing sugar for sprinkling on desserts like Austrian and Czech steamed dumplings filled with plums or the plum butter called powidl or powidla - available from continental delicatessens.

Hungarians and Poles serve tagliatelle noodles covered in ground nuts and poppy seeds as a breakfast and sometimes festive dish. 

If you prefer yours in cake form want to get your bake on with this Purim staple, here are a few of our favourite poppy seed-packed recipes: 

Lemon poppy seed loaf This citrus-soaked sponge from Silvia Nacamulli is full of nutty-tasting poppy seeds and will add a pop of crunch and colour to your Purim festivities.   

Courgette, lemon and poppy seed cake Stacey Hart’s modern take on the classic combination adds a healthy spin with one of our five-a-day .


Orange poppy seed cookies

Zesty orange give these nostalgic poppy-seed packed cookies a taste of home for Limor Chen. 


Choc, pistachio and poppy seed bundt Denise Phillips’s crown-shaped cake pairs poppy with pistachios and creamy white chocolate for a royally good Purim tea.

Lemon poppy seed mini bundt cakes Lisa Roukin’s cute mini-bundt cakes are ideal for mishloach manot. Or serve them on a platter drizzled with lemon icing for a Purim tea.

Seromakowiec – poppy seed cheesecake the Ashkenazi love for the tiny black seeds is mirrored in Polish festive baking traditions. Ren Behan’s baked creamy cheesecake includes a gorgeously contrasting swirl of black poppy seed paste, adding nutty, crunchy notes. 

Denise Phillips’s poppy and pistachio roulade biscuits are a very haimish take that’ll take you straight back to bubbe’s table. 

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive