Poppy seeds are visually striking and can offer a nutty flavor along with a crunchy texture to enhance dishes as diverse as curries and lemon poppy seed muffins. They are a common ingredient in both European and Indian recipes. If you regularly cook dishes from either of those cultures, you may want to keep some on hand. If you are out of poppy seeds or are worried about passing a drug test, try one of the substitutes below.
Your best bet: Toasted sesame seeds
Sesame seeds are known for their light, nutty flavor that is similar to the poppy seed flavor. Toasting enhances the flavor of sesame seeds and makes it even more like that of poppy seed. The flavor of toasted sesame seeds will pair well with most foods on which poppy seeds would be used. They are a popular topping for baked goods and can deliver a pleasant crunch. You have the option of white or black sesame seeds that can be used in place of white or black poppy seeds. Note that the differences between the black and white varieties are largely cosmetic, so you can use white sesame seeds in place of black poppy seeds or black sesame seeds in place of white poppy seeds if you care more about flavor than about appearance.
Use sesame seeds as a 1:1 substitute for poppy seeds in any application.
A decent second choice: Chia seeds
Chia seeds are known for their health benefits, but also look and taste similar enough to poppy seeds to make a good substitute. They are small, dark-colored and dense like poppy seeds and also provide a crunch. They work well in dry applications like muffins and on the surfaces of breads.
Note that chia seeds will absorb liquids and expand due to their fiber content. They will form a gel that you can use as a binder or egg substitute, but this may not be what you want from a poppy seed substitute. They are more likely to deliver a chewy texture rather than a crunchy one in moist dishes. You may want to reserve this poppy seed substitute for dishes with little or no moisture.
Use the same amount of chia seeds that your recipe requires for poppy seeds.
In a pinch: Nigella seeds
Nigella seeds come from a flowering plant in the buttercup family and look very much like poppy seeds in that they are small and blue-black in color. Mostly limited to Indian cuisine, these seeds taste like a combination of onion and poppy seeds. The flavor is ideal for savory applications like Indian curries and dals. It is often used as a topping for breads like Indian naan as well. In addition, nigella seeds can be used as a substitute for the caraway seeds in rye bread.
Use the same amount of nigella seeds that your recipe requires for poppy seeds.
Hemp seeds are not as compact or as dark as poppy seeds, but they do have a similar nutty flavor. Consider grinding them to get a texture that is more akin to that of poppy seeds.
Flax seeds are another effective alternative but like hemp seeds, they do not look very much like poppy seeds. However, they can provide a crunch and a pleasant nutty flavor.
You can use hemp and flax seeds to replace poppy seeds in both savory and dessert applications.