As a baker, I always have a healthy stash of nuts and seeds in my pantry. One of my favorite mix-ins for quick breads, scones and muffins are poppy seeds. These tiny, blue-black round seeds have a pleasant nuttiness to them. I use them as a substitute for walnuts or pecans in both banana and zucchini bread. I pair them with lemons in scones and muffins. I also use them to make dressing and add them to salads, like coleslaw.
Natural Oils Can Spoil
Like all nuts and seeds, poppy seeds contain lots of healthy oils – which is a good thing – but they don’t last forever! The naturally healthy oils in poppy seeds can break down over time if exposed to heat, light and oxygen. How do you know if your poppy seeds are spoiled? Oh, you’ll know! Fresh poppy seeds should taste pleasantly sweet and a little nutty. When they have gone bad, they will have a harsh, bitter taste.
Store Seeds in a Cool, Dry Place
Stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry cupboard, poppy seeds have a shelf life of up to a year, although, they will likely lose flavor over time. Exposing them to sunlight or storing them near the stovetop will only make them spoil faster, so proper storage in a cool cupboard or pantry is key.
Buy Fresh - and Freeze!
Really want to optimize the shelf life of poppy seeds? First, be sure to purchase fresh poppy seeds. It’s important to purchase nuts, seeds and spices from a merchant that sells them in high volume. Don’t buy poppy seeds off of a shelf that looks as if it hasn’t been touched in years. They may already be well on their way to spoiled!
Once you get your poppy seeds home, store them in the freezer. Freezing poppy seeds extends their shelf life considerably. I typically transfer them to a freezer bag and use a marker and tape to label them, including the date I purchased them. This helps me keep track of how long I’ve had them. Whenever I need them, I just go to the freezer. There is no need to thaw frozen poppy seeds before using them. If you think there is a chance that their taste has suffered a bit over time in the freezer, try toasting them in the oven to reinvigorate their natural oils and flavor before adding them to your favorite recipe.
Kristen is a professional chef living, working, and playing in Washington, D.C.