Home Food Why are poppyseeds such a popular hamantashen filling?

Why are poppyseeds such a popular hamantashen filling?

(Flickr photo - realfoodforager - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Why have poppyseeds become the predominant filling for hamantashen?

Many say that, because Esther needed to hide the fact that she was Jewish, she became vegetarian, in order to maintain her kosher diet. This meant eating a lot of seeds. Seeds are also said to have been the only food Esther ate during her three-day fast, before she went to see the king.

Another interpretation is that poppyseeds symbolize the promise God made to Abraham: “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” (Genesis 22:17), because this is the antithesis of the annihilation planned by Haman.

Mohn, the Yiddish word for poppyseed, 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 poppyseeds. They were named after Haman’s coat pockets, where he carried the lots (purim) he cast to determine on which day the Jews would be killed.

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

By the way, if you plant poppyseeds, you end up with poppy flowers. Their unripe seed capsules are the source of opium and morphine, which can be processed into heroin and other synthetic opioids.

It is possible that consuming poppyseed pastries, including hamantashen, could cause one to test positive on a drug test. Many years ago, a State Police Crime Lab in Oregon tested the driving ability of subjects who had consumed 25 grams of poppy seeds baked into a bundt cake and found that their driving ability was not impaired, but they did test positive for opium. Another bit of research indicated that eating two poppyseed bagels could cause one to fail a drug test.


Poppyseeds 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 hamantashen may contain upwards of 200 calories.

Speaking of poppyseeds, poppyseed cookies, or mohn kichel, are also popular on Purim, as is mohn torte, or poppyseed cake, in which two layers of pastry dough are filled with a mixture of poppyseeds, sugar or honey, ground almonds and raisins.

Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, author, compiler/editor of nine kosher cookbooks, and a food writer who lives in Jerusalem, where she leads weekly walking tours of the Jewish food market, Machane Yehuda, in English.