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Why do we eat poppy seeds for Purim?

By Sybil Kaplan, Contributing Writer

JERUSALEM — Purim has its share of food customs as it is observed by most of the Jewish communities around the world, however, some ask, why the poppy seeds — particularly in hamantaschen? 

A little research indicates Esther ate seeds which were healthy in order to maintain a kosher diet.

They are also said to have been the only food Esther ate during the three-day fast before she went to see the king.

Another interpretation indicates that poppy seeds symbolize the promise G-d made to Abraham, Genesis 22:17, “I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore…” because this is the antithesis of the annihilation planned by Haman.

Mohn, the Yiddish word for poppy seed, was combined with milk, sugar or honey and sometimes raisins and nuts and used as a filling as early as medieval times. Tasch is German for pocket so the original name was mohntaschen, pockets filled with poppy seeds. Why pockets? Haman carried the lots (purim) he cast to determine on which day the Jews would be killed in his coat pockets.

When Jews fled Germany for Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, they took the poppy seed pastry with them and added the Yiddish prefix, “ha,” thus making it hamohntaschen.

By the way, if you plant poppy seeds, you end up with poppy flowers. The milky fluid found in the unripe seed capsules of poppy flowers, when processed, are the source of heroin, opium and morphine.

It is said that if you consume poppy seed-flavored cake or pastry or hamantaschen, you could test positive on a drug test. Many years ago, a state police crime lab in Oregon tested driving ability of subjects who had consumed 25 grams (about 1.75 tablespoons) of poppy seeds baked into a Bundt cake and found that their driving ability was not impaired, however, they did test positive for opium. Another bit of research indicated eating two poppy seed bagels could cause failure of a drug test!

Poppy seeds contain high amounts of oil and are best refrigerated when not being used. They are also an excellent source of calcium. However, a 50-gram hamantash (about 1.76 ounces ) may have 200 calories.