- Flaxseed is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3-fatty acid that may help reduce blood cholesterol.
- Two tablespoons (about 15 g) of ground flaxseed is a good source of dietary fiber, which helps to promote a healthy digestive system, and thiamin, a B vitamin that helps your body release energy from the foods you eat.
Flax is one of humanity's oldest grains. More than 30,000 years ago, prehistoric humans were using its fibers to weave clothes and ropes. Ancient Egyptians ate flaxseed as both a food and a medicine. More recently, early American colonists used flaxseed to sustain themselves through long winters. Today, it can be bought on its own or ground and baked into whole grain breads.
Flaxseed comes in two main types, the difference being their color: One is gold, the other brown. It is also known as linseed.
When is Flaxseed in Season?
Flaxseed is planted in early spring and usually peaks in late summer, just before the autumn frosts. However, it is usually available year round in grocery stores.
How to Choose Flaxseed
Look in the health-food section of your supermarket for flaxseed. It is sold whole or ground, usually in small, clear plastic bags. Good flaxseed will be a bright gold or rich brown color. Avoid bags that contain too many broken, scarred or insect-damaged seeds. Check the expiration date written on the package to ensure you're getting the freshest flaxseed.
How to Store Flaxseed
Due to its high fat content, flaxseed can quickly go rancid if exposed to the air or left out in the heat too long. Put your flaxseed in a resealable plastic bag and store it in a cool, dry place, like a cupboard or pantry. If your flaxseed comes pre-ground (or once you've ground it yourself), store it in the refrigerator or freezer instead. However, because these grounds become rancid so quickly, it is usually better to buy seeds whole and grind as needed.
How to Cook with Flaxseed
Flaxseed is often ground up and added to whole grain flours, though whole seeds are occasionally used to top breads, muffins or bagels. For the best results, buy your flaxseed whole and grind it yourself. Don't worry, you won't need any special equipment. An average coffee grinder will do nicely. Just before making a recipe, pour in the amount of flaxseed you'll need and let the grinder pummel it into a fine mixture. Ground flaxseeds can be added to muffin mixes and flours to boost a recipe's flavor and dietary fiber content. They'll add a coarse texture and nutty or seed-like taste that's sure to tantalize taste buds.
In most recipes, flaxseed is measured in tablespoons or 1/4 cups (for larger baked goods).
The beauty of flaxseed is that you can swap it for any number of ALA-rich seeds or nuts. These include pine nuts, soy nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts or sunflower seeds. Base the substitution on the kind of recipe you're making. So, in leafy green mixed salads, pine nuts or walnuts may be a better substitute for whole flaxseed, while you can use ground pumpkin seeds in place of flaxseed in baking flour.
Flaxseed in Recipes
These Flax 'n Fruit Muffins combine flaxseed, cranberries and walnuts for a wholesome breakfast that delivers a boost of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3s.
For a hot, golden brown loaf with a coarse, seed-and-grain texture, bake ground flaxseed into Wheat 'n Flax Bread, then serve it fresh from the oven.
And if you want a quick yet sophisticated meal, replace pine nuts with whole flaxseeds in this Spinach Salad with Olives, which you can drizzle with lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.