Mák - growing a taste for this tiny seed

I love trying a familiar food in new ways, don’t you?  But sometimes it happens by surprise as is the case for my experience with poppy seeds, mák.

I must admit it took a few tries before I embraced the generous quantities of this little seed commonly found in baked goods in the Czech Republic and other European countries. I was accustomed to eating poppy seeds in small amounts as a garnish on breads or in muffins, but soon after arriving in Brno, I tried mákovy frgál, a sweet pastry topped with a thick paste of poppy seeds. I confused the poppy filling for chocolate and was surprised by the crunchy texture and savory flavor during my first bite. Overtime, I continued to consume poppy seeds in strudel, cakes and bread, not to mention ice cream and on pasta, and now I really enjoy their crunchy texture and nutty flavor they provide.  Perhaps my favorite thus far is ovocný knedlik s mákem, fruit filled dumplings covered with melted butter and ground poppy seeds – absolutely delicious!

Mák are grown locally, and in fact, the Czech Republic is a major producer of high-quality poppy seeds in the world.  While poppies can be a source of the narcotic opium, the dried seeds contain negligible amounts that can be further reduced by heat (cooking and baking) or soaking the seeds before use.  They are easy to find in Brno grocery stores and seasonally at Zelný trh, as well as in prepared foods at bakeries and restaurants.  I recently purchased some locally grown mák modrý, blue poppy seeds, and have prepared a delicious cake and pasta at home.
You may want to try these recipes.

Poppy seeds are a healthy, whole food choice.  Considered an oil seed, they are a source of heart healthy unsaturated fat and other nutrients including calcium and fiber.  Grinding them before use will release the oil and enhance their flavor.  Like many other seeds and whole grains, it is best to store them in the refrigerator or freezer to prolong freshness, and to grind them right before use. If you are looking to cultivate your taste, I encourage you to try poppy seeds in some new ways and let me know your favorites.

Victoria Hawk is an American Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with more than 15 years of clinical and research experience.  She is living in Brno with her husband Jon, who is working here on an expat assignment. Victoria enjoys learning about local foods and plans to share her experience through this blog series.

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