What Is a Poppy Seed Bagel?

A.M. Boyle

A poppy seed bagel is a bread-like bakery item that has a coating of poppy seeds on the surface. Shaped like an oversized donut, the bagel itself is made of a somewhat heavy, thick bread dough. Usually, the outside crust is sprinkled liberally with poppy seeds. The seeds look like tiny black pellets and give the bagel a unique, nutty flavor.

Poppy seeds.
Poppy seeds.

Harvested primarily from a plant known as the opium poppy, poppy seeds are very small oil seeds often used in cooking and baking. Opium poppies, also known by their more formal name, papaver somniferum, are flowering plants that have long stems and vibrant petals that bloom in a number of different colors. The petals are attached to a prominent bud, or seed pod, that contains a host of little black seeds. Once the petals fall away and the seed pod becomes dry and brittle, poppy farmers consider the seeds within ripe and ready to harvest.

Poppyseeds come from the pods at the base of poppy flowers.
Poppyseeds come from the pods at the base of poppy flowers.

Bagels, which are thick, chewy, donut-shaped bread rolls, are popular bakery items traditionally served for breakfast but are often eaten for other meals as well. Known also by the Yiddish name, beugal, bagels are considered Jewish in origin but can be found in various forms in many different countries. For instance, in the U.S., New York-style bagels, with soft, chewy crusts and dense middles, are very popular. In Canada, however, Montreal-style bagels, which are smaller and sweeter with a crunchier crust, are more common. Regardless of bagel style, many bakers add toppings, such as seeds, salt, or other spices, in order to give the bagel more flavor.

Smoked salmon pairs nicely with a poppy seed bagel.
Smoked salmon pairs nicely with a poppy seed bagel.

Poppy seeds are one of the most popular toppings for bagels. In order to properly make a poppy seed bagel, chefs must add the seeds prior to baking. For bagels that are boiled before baking, as is true for the New York style, bakers dip them into the seeds after boiling but before placing them in the oven. If the bagels are not boiled beforehand, chefs sprinkle the kernels liberally on top immediately prior to baking. In this way, a poppy seed bagel emerges from the oven with the tasty black pellets baked onto the crust so that they are less likely to fall off.

Once cooked, a poppy seed bagel has a mild, nutty flavor. Many people find that the unique taste of a poppy seed bagel goes well with cream cheese and smoked salmon spreads. Others prefer the sweeter taste of honey or jam to complement the flavor. In some instances, poppy kernels are mixed with other toppings, such as salt, garlic, or sesame seeds.

Some people are concerned about the use of poppy seeds in cooking because of the relation to the drug opium, a derivative of the poppy plant. Opium, however, comes from immature seeds harvested from green seed pods, as opposed to the ones used in cooking, which are only taken once the pod is dried out and the seeds are fully matured. As a caveat, though, there is some evidence that poppy seeds, especially if eaten to excess, can cause a false positive reading on some types of drug screening tests. People who are concerned in that regard should therefore forgo indulging in poppy seed bagels or should at least limit their intake to only one.

Poppy seed bagels from the deli may be toasted at home and then spread with cream cheese.
Poppy seed bagels from the deli may be toasted at home and then spread with cream cheese.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I like lemon poppy seed muffins. The poppy seeds add an interesting crunch to the muffins and they look nice too. But I've never really understood the popularity of poppy seed bagels. They don't really taste like anything. They don't have that nice aroma that toasted sesame seeds provide to bagels for example. I think the idea of poppy seed bagels came about just to add a color contrast for bagels.


@ZipLine-- I've never experienced something like this before so I'm not sure. It seems like three days is plenty of time for the poppy seed compounds to leave your system. Poppy seeds are not a narcotic but they have compounds that are similar to opium and can cause false positives if consumed in large quantities. I don't think that the quantity on a bagel is going to be an issue though and as you said, there are still three days. I think you will be fine.

Next time though, stay away from poppy seeds for at least a week before drug tests just to be on the safe side. I think that this is more of an issue for people who consume foods which use a lot of poppy seeds. For example, some cultures make bread using poppy seed paste which basically contains hundreds of poppy seeds. I'm sure those are most likely for testing positive in a drug test.


I love bagels and my favorite variety is poppy seed. I like the unique mild flavor and texture these little seeds add to bagels. If I have the choice, I choose poppy seed bagels, sesame bagels and onion bagels are my next choices. Lately, I've been having a poppy seed bagel every morning for breakfast along with cream cheese. I'm worried though because I've just been called for a job interview on short notice and I may have to do a drug test. I won't eat any poppy seed bagels until the interview but is there a chance for the test to give a false positive? There are three days left for the interview.

Post your comments
Forgot password?