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How to Cook with Flax

Flaxseed and Food FAQs

Q. I've heard that I need to grind whole flaxseed. Why is that?
A: While whole and ground flaxseed have the same nutritional content your body gets more benefit from ground flaxseed. That's because the goodness in flaxseed is wrapped up in a hard, shiny seed coat that's hard to crack, even with careful chewing. Grinding or roasting flaxseed breaks this seed coat making all the nutrients easier to digest. Flaxseeds are easy to grind at home using a coffee grinder, food processor or blender. You also can buy ground or "milled" flaxseed in most stores where whole flaxseed is sold. 

Q. Where can I find flaxseed?
A: Flaxseed can be found in whole, milled, or oil forms at your local grocery store or health food store. Whole and milled flaxseed is usually found with the packaged grains or bulk food section, while oil is in the refrigerated section. It is found in numerous ready-to-eat products including snack bars, trail mixes, muffins, pancakes, cereals, waffles, breads, pastas, pizza crusts and many more.

Q. My store carries both brown and golden flaxseed. Is one better than the other?
A: Golden and brown flaxseed both contain the same nutritional benefits in terms of omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, protein and dietary fibre. It's a matter of choice, but be assured that you can substitute golden for brown and vice versa without sacrificing any of the natural goodness in flaxseed.

Q. Is there a difference between flaxseed and flaxseed oil?
A: Yes. Flaxseed oil is the purified fat that results from the cold-pressing of flaxseeds. Because it is the fat portion of the seed, it contains high levels of omega-3 ALA (55-58 percent on a per weight basis in comparison to 18-23 percent from whole or milled seed). Flaxseed oil doesn't have the fibre and protein found in the rest of the seed. Some flaxseed oil manufacturers do “add” back in the lignans – check the label for these products. If the label doesn’t identify lignans, they are not present. 

Q. What is flaxseed oil and what types are available?
A: Flaxseed oil results from pressing the oil from the seed. There are two types of flaxseed oil available — conventional and organic. These types of flaxseed oil differ in the way the seed is grown, but the nutritional content is the same. 

Q. How long does flaxseed keep?
A: If you buy whole flaxseed, don't be afraid to keep a jar of it handy on your kitchen counter. Whole flaxseed is naturally wrapped in a perfect package — a hard seed coat that preserves its goodness for up to a year or longer. If you grind flaxseed yourself (for example in a coffee grinder), it is best stored refrigerated in an opaque container and will keep for at least 90 days. Because ground flaxseed flows readily even when frozen, many users choose to store ground flaxseed in the freezer for even longer shelf life.  
Also good quality milled flaxseed may be purchased, but attention should be paid to the manufacturers recommendation as to storage conditions. Overall the storage of milled flax is similar to other whole grain flour or raw nuts. Roasted flaxseed should also be refrigerated or frozen. Flaxseed oil should be refrigerated and usually has an expiration date about four months after pressing.

Q. How can I add flaxseed into my diet?
A: Flaxseed is added to many products on today's grocery shelves because of the omega-3 fats, lignans, and fibre found in the seed, all of which help deliver a unique and nutritious health boost that aids in overall wellness. Here are some ways to use flax:

  • Whole flaxseed. Whole flaxseed adds colour and crunch to foods. You can sprinkle flaxseeds on top of home baking or mix them into dough. However, to obtain maximal benefits from flaxseed, you should grind them first because whole seeds will pass through your body undigested.
  • Milled (ground) flaxseed. Grinding whole seeds breaks their tough outer shell, creating a light coloured powder. Milled flaxseed is available for purchase, or you can make your own in a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor. Making your own has the added benefit of maximizing freshness. Milled flaxseed can be sprinkled on cereal, or add it to doughs, batters, casseroles, and other cooked foods. Mix some into your salad dressing or in your fruit and cottage cheese for a crunchy flaxseed punch. Stir it into thicker soups such as lentil or bean varieties or into pasta sauces just before serving. Another option is to use it in burgers, meatloaf, and fish or vegetable patties as a healthy filler.
  • Flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is sold in bottles. The oil is extracted from whole flaxseeds using a cold-press process especially developed for plant oils. Pour flax oil on fresh salads. The amount of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid is higher in purified flaxseed oil than whole flaxseed, but the oil does not contain the beneficial fibre or lignans.
  • Gel capsules. Flaxseed oil is sealed in gel capsules and sold as a dietary supplement. Please follow the manufacturers’ recommended dosages.
  • Omega-3-enriched eggs. These eggs contain extra omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed fed to laying hens. You can use omega-3 eggs wherever you would use regular eggs – there’s no taste or functionality difference, only nutritional enrichment. 
  • Omega-3-enriched foods. These foods, such as yogurt and milk, may contain flaxseed oil, while baked goods, such as breads, can include milled or whole flaxseed.
  • Check out our healthy recipes for more ideas!

Q. Can omega-3-enriched eggs help me meet the recommended dietary intake for ALA?
A: Hens are fed flaxseed to produce omega-3-enriched eggs. One omega-3-enriched egg provides on average 0.34 g of ALA and 0.13 g of EPA + DHA. By itself, one omega-3-enriched egg provides about one-quarter to one-half of the Adequate Intake of ALA, depending on your age and gender. If eaten on a regular basis, omega-3-enriched eggs make a substantial contribution to your need for omega-3 fatty acids. While the omega-3 content may vary substantially between different brands, the caloric value and protein content of omega-3-enriched eggs are similar to that of regular eggs.

Q. Can I use flaxseed for baking: 
A: Studies have shown that both the ALA and lignans in flaxseed remain stable, that is they do not “break down” under common baking temperatures of 178ºC (350ºF). In baking, milled flax can be substituted for the fat used in recipes at a ratio of 3:1.  For example, 1 ½ c (375 mL) of milled flaxseed can replace ½ c (125 mL) of butter, margarine, cooking oil, or shortening.  Adding whole or milled flaxseed or oil to baked goods such as muffins and breads is an excellent way to obtain the healthy constituents found in flax.
 
Q. Can I use flax for frying:  
A: Using flax oil for frying is not recommended as once the oil is extracted from the seed, the polyunsaturated fatty acids may undergo thermal oxidation (they “break down”) when exposed to high temperatures used in food preparation. This will give off flavors and odors to the finished product.

Q. How can flaxseed substitute for oils and eggs in cooking?
A: Flaxseed can easily replace oil or shortening in a recipe because of its high oil content. Just replace 1/3 cup of oil with 1 cup of milled flaxseed for a 3:1 substitution ratio. Similarly, a flaxseed mixture can be used as an egg substitute in selected recipes like pancakes, muffins and cookies. For every egg, replace with 1 teaspoon of milled flaxseed and 3 tablespoon of water. Mix milled flaxseed and water in a small bowl and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes. The result will be a slightly gummier and chewier baked good, with a slight decrease in volume.

Q. Is flaxseed organic?
A: There are a few companies that offer organically grown flaxseed, labeling the seeds and oils with an "organic" symbol. The "organic" symbol is a mark which is earned when companies have met the requirements of organic food production. You can expect to pay a premium for organic flaxseed. Any flaxseed that you buy from a reputable retailer is perfectly safe to eat, organic or not.

Q. Is flaxseed genetically modified?
A: No. Genetically modified flaxseed is not legal for sale in Canada or the US. Although a genetically modified flaxseed variety was developed in the 1990s, the variety has been deregistered and ordered destroyed. 

Q. Can I eat too much flaxseed?
A: While flaxseed provides numerous health benefits, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Cooking or baking with flaxseed is a perfectly safe practice. However, when raw flaxseed is added in large quantities to diets that do not contain a healthy mix of foods, health problems can develop. Like thousands of other plant seeds, flaxseed contains moderate amounts of natural compounds called cyanogenic glucosides. In an unbalanced diet containing too much uncooked flaxseed, cyanogenic compounds can build up in the body, leading to unpleasant and, on occasion, life-threatening reactions. Such a buildup has been documented in populations relying solely on a staple such as cassava in their diet. In these cases, the illness-causing deposits were not blocked by enzymes supplied by other foods in the diet. A balanced diet containing 50 g (approximately ¼ cup) of flaxseed daily does not increase glucoside buildup. In addition, cyanogenic compounds are made harmless by cooking. 

Flaxseed Can Replace Fat in Baking

Flaxseed can replace all of the fat called for in a recipe because of its high oil content. If a recipe calls for 1/3 cup (75 mL) of oil or butter or other fat then use 1 cup (250 mL) of ground flaxseed to replace it.  Generally, use a  3:1 substitution ratio. When ground flaxseed is used instead of other fats, baked goods tend to be denser and brown more rapidly. 

Flaxseed Can Replace Eggs in Baking

Vegan bakers often substitute a flaxseed mixture for eggs in baking recipes like pancakes, muffins, and cookies. These baked goods are slightly gummier and chewier than those that use eggs, and the volume is decreased.  Replace each egg with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) ground flax, plus 3 Tbsp (45 mL) water. Mix ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes. Add to recipe as you would an egg.

As the texture of the baked good will be different for both of these techniques, it is necessary to test the recipe first to determine if it meets your expectations. 

It is easy to add ground flaxseed your yogurt or cereal or smoothie. It can also be added to crusts for meats or your favourite baking recipes.