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Substitutes for Poppy Seeds – What Can I Use Instead?

Poppy seeds offer a decent range of dynamics to a dish; they stand out and make your food more visually enticing. They also offer a reasonably unique flavour dynamic too. They bring a nutty flavour and a crunchy quality to anything they touch, be it homemade bread, or curry. Their use is far reaching, and they are equally as common in Asia as they are in Europe.

Pretty much everyone has enjoyed the distinct flavour of a poppy seed bagel or muffin at this point, and though the taste and texture are quite unique in the culinary world, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few convincing substitutes out there.

Can poppy seeds make me test positive for drugs?

We’ve all heard this story. Someone eats a poppy seed bagel for breakfast in the morning and then tests positive for opiates later that day. They lose their job; it’s a harrowing tale. But how true is it? Well, amazingly it is a scientific fact. Poppy seeds come from the same plant as opium, and thus can contain traces of opium milk (which contains morphine) even after they have been processed. However, this will only show up on very sensitive drug tests. The best advice is still to avoid poppy seeds if you have a drug test coming up soon.

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Substitutes for Poppy Seeds

That being said, not very many of these recommendations will both look and taste the same as poppy seeds. In that regard, it may be hard to pull the wool over your dinner guests’ eyes. But, think about it, when is the humble poppy seed ever the star of the show? We think of poppy seeds more as a flourish to a dish, something that is used to complement its already established flavour.

So, whether you’re looking at substituting for poppy seeds to avoid the (somewhat rare) event that they can cause you to fail a drug test, or you’re just looking for a quick fill in – we have you covered. Each of the substitutes below will fill in for poppy seeds in some useful way. Some will have a similar nutty, crunchy mouth-feel, whereas others will be more aesthetically similar. So, without much further ado, here is our rundown of the best substitutes for poppy seeds that money can buy!


1. Toasted Sesame Seeds

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The first viable substitute is perhaps far more versatile than that which it aims to replace. Sesame seeds go well with pretty much anything, and are a delight to taste. They are as compatible with fish dishes as they are in homemade bread, and they also make for an excellent addition to salads. If anything, their flavour is more appealing than poppy seeds. Unlike poppy seeds, they also tend to make their presence known in a dish.

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However, in terms of their visual appearance, we have to admit that sesame seeds will never fool anyone into thinking they are poppy seeds. But, thankfully there is a workaround for that. In the eventuality that you are looking for a similar looking substitute, black sesame seeds are the solution. Though slightly larger than poppy seed, they offer a similar visual dynamic, albeit with a stronger nuttier taste.


  •         Raw, vegan, 100% natural, kosher, free from preservatives – the list goes on!
  •         Visually, they are a good stand-in
  •         Delightfully cheap


  •         Much stronger taste than poppy seeds


2. Hemp Seeds

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In terms of taste, hemp seeds are probably the best tasting substitute on this list. They are dangerously addictive and almost impossible to keep stocked. Leave an opened bag of them on the counter and they’re bound to have magically evaporated by the end of the day! But, we are not just suggesting these because they are delicious. There’s more to it than that. They also happen to have a similar flavour profile (though definitely a bit stronger) than poppy seeds. Not to worry though, just use less of these than you would have used poppy seeds.

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Admittedly, the hemp seed looks totally different from the poppy seed, so, if you were attempting some visual trickery, this isn’t the substitute for you. But, if you’re willing to put in the extra bit of work, you can lightly toast and ground them to a smaller size to add a bit of crunch and make them appear darker. Thankfully, hemp seed can be found pretty easily these days in most stores and supermarkets.


·         Perfect with salads and can make an excellent addition in breads

·         Sustainably grown with a net carbon footprint of zero

·         Delicious nutty flavour


·         If we were forced to choose a con, they are a little pricey


3. Chia Seeds

chia seeds

This useful and versatile ingredient has exploded in popularity in the last decade or so as an excellent source of energy. It is true to say that the way we enjoy chia has come a long way since the heyday of chia pets, although these still have their merits! Chia seeds are the closest you can get to a match for the poppy seeds appearance, while also providing quite a bit of crunch.

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However, this all comes with a caveat. Chia seeds change entirely when they are exposed to liquids. They go from being crunchy to developing an almost slimy texture. This isn’t great for breads or for salads, but can actually prove somewhat advantageous in dessert making. So, if you’re looking to substitute poppy seed for chia, generally it is a good call to use it in dry form. Chia is available in all health food stores and many supermarkets.


·         100% natural and organic

·         Strikingly similar looking to poppy seeds

·         Broad range of uses outside of as a poppy seed replacement


·         A relatively dull flavour


4. Nigella Seeds

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If you’re in a tight spot, nigella seeds can make a reasonably adequate substitution for poppy seeds. Appearance wise, they are pretty close to being an exact replica of the poppy and they do have a bit of flavour. Ideally, these are best used in Indian style dishes and breads, but it is not hard to imagine them in homemade breads and bagels either. To substitute, simply use the same amount of nigella as you would poppy. Nigella seeds can be a little harder to come across than the other ingredients listed above, but if you do come across them, they are worth a try.

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So, that’s it for this particular roundup. We hope that you found this guide to substituting for poppy seeds to be a valuable and information source as you embark on a quest for an alternative option. As you can see, there are several decent substitutes out there – one or more of which may already be lurking in your kitchen as you read this!

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