Papaver somniferum or opium poppy is highly prized by the pharmaceutical industry as a source of alkaloid compounds. The plant also produces poppy seeds, a common ingredient in baked goods. Morphine and other alkaloid compounds can be obtained during the flowering stage of the plant’s life cycle when the petals have fallen and the dried latex product is gathered for extraction. However if left to mature the plant will develop capsules that contain poppy seeds, which are mechanically harvested and sieved.
However, concerns have been raised about the risk of opium alkaloids entering the food chain. Previously it was believed that harvested seeds would not contain any traces of alkaloids, but research in the 1990s reported cases of individuals failing urine tests after consuming bread products with poppy seeds.
This research published in Frontiers examines the harvesting process and tries to determine if alkaloid compound levels can be altered from the time it is harvested to the thermal processing stage.