Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

How to Use and Store Flax Seeds and Flax Oil

June 9th, 2009 · 36 Comments · Avoiding Waste, KS lifestyle, Science of Nutrition, Super Foods, What to Buy

We know flax has heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and even though they’re not as power-packed as salmon (and have some side effects), it’s still not a bad idea to get acquainted with flax.  After all, it’s not as if most of us grew up with mothers who packed flaxseed crackers in our lunchboxes or served it as a condiment for oatmeal.  If you’re one of the many who thinks, “Flax?  What’s that?  Where do I find it?  What do I DO with it?” then you’re in the right place.

What is flax?

Flax is a seed that is often sold in three ways:  whole, ground (as “meal”), and in oil form.  The whole seed is quite small, and virtually indigestible.  Once cracked open, however, this seed is full of goodness.

Where do I Find Flax?

You can certainly find flax in all its forms at a health foods store, but even in a general supermarket you can usually find ground flax in the baking aisle, sold in a bag.  Bob’s Red Mill is one common brand.  Often Farmer’s Markets sell whole flax seeds, and there are many online resources for all three.

Take note, though:  there are some serious lists of “how-to” for purchasing and storing flax.  Don’t stop reading now!

Flax Seeds: Uses and Storage

Buy flax seeds in airtight packaging.  Flax seeds must be ground for our bodies to use them. They will simply pass through when eaten whole, so all those fancy breads with added flax seeds on the top are really just for show, not nutrition.  Whole seeds are kept best cold, but acceptable at room temp.  You can use a grain grinder or a coffee grinder to make flax meal at home. All seeds begin to degrade as soon as they’re cracked, so the best and most nutritious flax is freshly ground in your kitchen and used that day.  You can also store it in a tightly sealed container in the freezer to keep it from going rancid.

Ground Flaxmeal: Purchasing and Storage

Purchase ground meal in opaque packaging, vacuum-packed is best, and use within a few weeks to 45 days (sources varied).  Find a store with quick turnover so you know your flax hasn’t been sitting around for a long time.  Be sure to store cold and away from light (the freezer would be safest).  It should taste nutty, not bitter.

Flax Oil:  Precautions and Instructions

Flax oil is extremely unstable and goes rancid quickly.  Purchase it only in refrigerated sections in opaque containers. You’ll often see it in the vitamin aisles – stay away from that stuff!  It goes rancid 6 weeks after pressing, so watch expiration dates carefully, especially before purchasing.  It should have a sweet, nutty flavor.  Never cook with flax oil! It oxidizes at extremely low temps (for an oil).  Only add to cold foods or foods after they have been cooked.

How to Incorporate Flax Into Your Diet

Now that you can find and safely store flax, you’ll need to figure out some ways to use it up – and quickly, before you lose it!  Here are the easiest:

Ground Flax:

  1. Sprinkle on cereal or oatmeal.
  2. Use with salad dressings on lettuce.
    timesaverTimesaver: Just store in a shaker bottle (opaque) in the fridge and serve with your dressings every night.  We use a Parmesan cheese container with a wrapper on it.  You can replace dressing entirely with flax, but I think a salad needs a little of both.  The dressing will help the flax stick to the salad, anyway.
  3. Add to meatloaf, meatballs, or casseroles, a handful here and there.  I actually think flaxmeal in burgers is very tasty!
  4. Stir into thick soups (like Three Bean Soup, Hearty Lentil Stew or Veggie Bean Burritoes) or pasta sauces just before serving.
  5. Mix with yogurt , smoothies , shakes, cottage cheese
  6. Toss into pancake batter (might need to add more water)
  7. Substitute in baking:  You can sub out some of the fat in a cookie, muffin, or quick bread recipe with ground flax.  The ratio is 3:1 flax to other fat. It seems high, but it works.
    For example, if I have a cookie recipe that calls for 1 cup of butter, I might use ¾ cup butter and ¾ cup flax meal (took out ¼ cup butter and replaced with 3 x ¼ cup flax).  Can you handle the math?  I’ve had good luck with all these substitutions, and you generally don’t notice much of a difference in flavor, maybe a little nuttiness.
  8. Here is a source from Rachel that validates that baking with flax is safe, even though it is a heat-sensitive fat:The following is quoted from Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, by Udo Erasmus:

    “Boiling is less destructive of oils than frying because the temperature goes only to 100*C (212*F). Even the most sensitive, EFA-rich oils can be used in cooked grains and on steamed vegetables without deterioration.

    Baking fits between safe boiling with water and unsafe frying. The temperature of baking pan and crust gets very high, damaging (browning) molecules of oils, starches, and proteins. Butter or tropical fat should be used to line baking pans and to brush the top of what you are baking. The temperature inside the bread being baked goes up to only just above boiling – perhaps 116*C (240*F) – and the inside of bread is also protected from air and from light.The inside of ‘baked’ bread is actually steamed at an acceptable temperature for even the more sensitive oils.”

Links to other recipes, including a flax porridge “mush” that I might try for breakfast someday (as soon as I buy some more flax meal…see next post) here.

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A note:  Ground flax is a beast in the dishwasher.  Do rinse every last bit off your dishes before turning the DW on.

Flax Oil:

  1. Add to salad dressings, either in an opaque bottle or right before serving.
  2. Add to smoothies (but not too much; strong flavor)
  3. In yogurt (“Mixing flax oil with yogurt helps to emulsify the oil, improving its digestion and metabolism by the body.” From Dr. Sears)
  4. A tablespoon at breakfast (yuck for me, but maybe you can do it)

Just remember:  NEVER cook with flax oil or allow it to get very warm.  I read somewhere and lost the link that baking with flax meal is a totally different issue and is safe.  It sure seems that enough sources recommend it, so I hope that’s true.  I can’t use it up fast enough if I can’t put it into baked goods!

If you’re going to try something new with flax, make sure you figure out a way that works for you to use it often, before you lose it to oxidation.  Store it with your salad dressings, write it into recipes, get a habit of putting it in oatmeal…whatever needs to get done to use it up. I should know…read my sob story about flax.

Sources:  1 2 3

Do you use flax?  If so, how?  How do you make sure you remember to incorporate it regularly into your diet?  What tips and precautions can you share with others?  Thanks for chiming in!

This post is part of Kitchen Tip Tuesday at Tammy’s Recipes, What I Learned This Week at Musings of a Housewife, and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

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    36 Comments so far ↓

    • Juhoo

      I have heard that eating Flax seeds whole helps to clean out your colon. It acts as a brush of sorts to clean your colon out.

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Reply:

      Hmmmm…I wonder if any whole seeds would have that general effect. I wouldn’t think you’d want to do that on a regular basis though. Anyone else know more?

      [Reply to this comment]

      Heather D. Reply:

      I have made dehydrated flax crackers using the whole seeds. Either whole or ground, they do cleanse your colon, and this is the primary reason I take flaxseed meal. In the morning or evening, I mix the ground flaxseeds with a little water and drink it down. It is superior to psyllium husks in that you don’t have to drink nearly as much water.

      Heather D.’s last blog post..The Roots of Endurance

      [Reply to this comment]

      ~Michelle Reply:

      I’ve heard chia seeds do this too, but might be more digestible.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • mub

      This is a great post! I didn’t know that you should store flax in the fridge. Maybe I ought to get a fresh package and store it in there.

      mub’s last blog post..Vanilla Extract

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Reply:

      I’m thinking freezer for my next bag, actually.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Heather D.

      I have a friend, known as “The Raw Gourmet”, who once taught me that the best way to store flax oil is to freeze it. Buy the refrigerated opaque containers (high lignan is the best) and when you get home, open it up and stir it with a chopstick. This will help get the dark brown lignans that sink to the bottom to mix into the oil. After that put it in the freezer. When you are ready to use it, let it sit out for a couple of minutes and then use it as usual. I love to put it in smoothies and also make a simple dressing of flax oil, lemon juice, and Bragg Liquid Aminos. This is great on cuc & tomato salads. Thanks for the post!

      Heather D.’s last blog post..The Roots of Endurance

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Reply:

      I wish I had known that a few months ago! You can actually freeze the whole bottle, and it will thaw enough to get some out in a few minutes? I might freeze it in ice cubes…I guess in an opaque container after that. But I think I’ll stick to the seeds from now on…

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Sarah (GenMom)

      Great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

      Sarah (GenMom)’s last blog post..Video Footage with Fellow Mom Bloggers in NYC

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Kelly the Kitchen Kop

      What a super-informative post, thanks Katie!

      Also, thanks for joining in on Real Food Wednesday. :)

      Kelly

      Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s last blog post..What’s Wrong With Breakfast Cereals? Random Reader Question

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Alyss

      A roommate of mine in college used to add flax seeds to our oatmeal. It caused me no end of trouble since they didn’t get digested and just went right through me. I’ve stayed away from them ever since. This is a great post with lots of good information. Well written, as well. Thanks!
      I’ll stick with fish for my omega-3s, but whenever I do feel the urge for flax I’ll come back here for some pointers :)

      Alyss’s last blog post..I Tempted Her With Pheasant

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Georgia Schmitz

      My husband makes a breakfast concoction of homemade plain yogurt, natural peanut butter, 1-2 ground flax meal and honey for sweetener. Then he adds a bran cereal and frozen blueberries (or fresh if available). Seriously, it’s great! Even my almost 2 year old son eats it for breakfast near daily!
      I also add flax meal to a homemade waffle recipe. I’ll mix up a batch of waffle batter, store it in the fridge and make fresh waffles 2 or 3 days in a row. Great easy, on-the-go snack for the kids.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Frances

      Katie, I made muffins this morning from the Banana Flax recipe you shared and they are delicious!! I liked them so much that I substituted ground flax for some of the oil in the carrot cake recipe I tried this afternoon!

      After I read this post (and your gratitude one about throwing out old ground flax) I got concerned about the freshness of the big container of ground flax I bought at Costco almost a year ago and have had in my fridge ever since. But it turns out it’s organic cold milled flax, which has greater longevity. Here’s what the side of the package says:

      “In order for flax to be digested properly it is most effective when ground. Unfortunately, some grinding methods generate heat during the milling process spurring early Omega-3 oxidization. Flax USA uses a Real Cold Milled process extending the shelf life to 22 months making refrigeration unnecessary unless desired. This proprietary method gently grinds the seed without significantly raising the temperature therefore preserving the nutrients, flavor and extending the shelf life.”

      How about that?! :)

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Renee

      Anyone had success with cooking Flax seeds like rice? Sometimes mine burns on the bottom and sometimes it is fluffly like real rice. The taste is cook if cooked in chicken broth with a little onion. Any recipes or ideas?

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Reply:

      I’ve never heard of cooking whole flax seeds…??? Have you Googled it?

      [Reply to this comment]

      Renee Reply:

      The only recipes I could find where for breads and desserts. I have had some success cooking flax like rice. I am trying to use it for a rice substitute.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Mareth

      Do you recommend any particular grinder? Looking for something that grinds many things, flour, coffee, etc. Also, I have been using cooked flaxseed meal (with water) as an egg replacer. Works nicely.

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Reply:

      I didn’t know you had to cook the flaxseed before using it as an egg replacer; thanks for sharing. I don’t have a grinder for anything, but I’ve heard that the Vitamix will do it all, but it’s really expensive. Many people say a second-hand coffee grinder will do flax seeds just fine, if you want something quickly!

      [Reply to this comment]

      Mareth Reply:

      I followed Lindsay’s recipe. It does become really mucus-y ;-) this way. The little one is officially allergic to eggs, ugh.

      http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/?s=egg+substitute

      Think I should find a coffee grinder! Thanks!

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Renee

      This is a little off the subject but I live in South Texas and we are having a BAD drougth. Since corn and cotton will not grow without rain the farmers in our area have planted FLAX. I have not seen flax around here since I was a kid. “With demand, there is need for production”.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • vikki

      I use a great deal of flax. I add it to smoothies and I’ve sprinkled it over foods, but not a big fan. I use it as a flour replacement and bake with it. I make wonderful flaxbread we eat for breakfast, our current favorite is apple walnut. It has no flour at all it’s all flaxmeal. And yes I bring my flaxmeal/seed home and they go directly into the freezer. I dip straight from the freezer to my mixing bowl with no problem whatsoever. I’ve read negitives on baking with flax but we’ve been eating it in breads and muffins on a nearly daily basis for the last few years with no problems.
      Just my 2cents worth. I’m a fan as you can tell.
      .-= vikki´s last blog ..Menu Monday =-.

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Reply:

      Vikki,
      That is awesome flax info. I just need to make sure I store it properly! Sounds like you have a very healthy kitchen – welcome to Kitchen Stewardship! I sure hope you stick around; your comments are super helpful :) Katie

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Debbie

      I stopped adding flaxmeal to baked goods when I read that heat destroys all the good things in it. I’m glad to see that’s not the only opinion. In any case, the way I use it is simple. I buy whole seeds and store them in the freezer. I keep a flax grinder (small, like a peppermill) on the table and I grind some flax into my sandwiches every day. It blends well with the bread – turns boring bread into “special grain bread” :) I didn’t like the flavor when I added it to yogurt, cereal, or meat, so this works best for me.

      Love your site!

      [Reply to this comment]

    • whatawhale

      Try mixing a little flax, yogurt, and peanut butter. Spread the mixture between 2 graham crackers, then freeze it. Great emergency snack.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Dustin

      I agree with Katie that you can make great flax crackers. My parents make them and they are great!

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Flax Guy

      Thanks for the suggestions. I had never thought of adding flax to burgers. I’ll have to try that some time :)

      [Reply to this comment]

    • The Cheapskate Cook » 7 Frugal Way to Fight Sugar Overload

      [...] of vegetable oil or crisco, use butter or coconut oil. I’ve also heard you can use flax meal to replace some of the fat, using a 3:1 flax meal to fat ratio (i.e. use 3/4 of a cup of flax meal to replace 1/4 cup of [...]

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    • Wendy Ray

      Thank you for this post! We bought 25 pounds of flax seeds from a large distributor (after verifying that they were fresh) and keep them in the freezer/fridge, and grind with a coffee grinder daily. They are a great addition to green or breakfast smoothies — they give a nice thickness and don’t ruin flavor at all. On yogurt or cereal (or a baked potato or a salad!) ground flax beats wheat germ or graham crackers, hands down. Tasty and so good for you!
      I have found that when I am regularly eating a tablespoon or two of flax meal per day, my blood sugar is more stable, my appetite is like it should be, and my energy level is better.
      I highly recommend reading the book referenced above: “fats that heal, fats that kill”. It’s understandable (even if the size looks scary!), well researched and so informative.
      I have a young nephew who had some classic symptoms of Omega 3 deficiency (including horrible eczema) and adding these oils to his diet improved his health and his skin dramatically. We actually had him take the Udo’s Oil blend, because my experience taking that was so positive (nice skin and hair, hormone help, a great pregnancy, mind clarity, etc) but I use flax and sunflower (and other sources) regularly enough now, that the oil (which isn’t available for 200 miles and is fairly expensive) seems less necessary.
      I do use flax in my homemade bread, too, instead of oil. I know that’s not ideal, to bake it, but I figure it’s better than vegetable oil. Olive oil is pretty nice there too.
      Oh, and on popcorn! Our treat is to melt equal parts butter (or coconut oil) and honey, add cinnamon, drizzle over fresh popped corn, and add in ground flax, other nuts and dried fruits (opt) or choc chips, etc… super easy, super good.

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Sneak in Nutrition: Flax « Don't Waste the Crumbs!

      [...] at Kitchen Stewardship has a knack for the science behind food and has some good information on flax (whole seed, ground [...]

    • How to Add Flax to Your Diet | Celebrity Diet and Weight Loss Blog

      [...] delicious, slightly nutty flavor, but the taste will not overpower any dishes to which you add it. If you’re new to flaxseed, look for it in the baking aisle. Always grind flaxseed before you eat it; whole flaxseed will pass [...]

    • Mindy

      What are the side effects you referred to above? I read once that flax has an estrogenic effect (similar to soy maybe?), so I’ve been leery to feed it to my young boys for fear of hormone disruption…any info on that? Also, I bought a huge bag of organic ground flaxseed at Costco like a year ago and havent’ used it up (probably because of my fear of hormonal effects)…so it’s definitely bad now?? Is it just not as beneficial after the 45 days or is actually BAD for you?? I used it recently in a recipe and it definitely didn’t taste bad…??

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

      Mindy,
      I think flax has some potentially negative gastro-intestinal effects, maybe binds some people up. ?? Haven’t heard the estrogenic one though…

      After a whole year – if it’s on the shelf and not the freezer – it’s probably rancid, yes, bad for you, not just “not as good.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! I have some that I inherited from someone else in my freezer over 18 mos. now, and I was just wondering today if I’d be able to tell if it’s rancid or not. A bitter taste is bad…

      Katie

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Nicole'

      can i freeze flax seed oil?

      [Reply to this comment]

      Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

      Nicole’,
      Can you tell I’m digging out of my comments hole? ;) YES, you can. I have some in the freezer right now. :) Katie

      [Reply to this comment]

    • Glenda

      I make a healthy desert using flax seeds.
      Soak seeds in water for several hours to enable them to swell. Then blend with plain non fat yogurt, prunes, banana, little ginger root, lemon zest, stevia(leaves or liquid), pinch or three of salt, cocoa powder to taste. Pack into individual meal containers and freeze.( I fill about 30 200ml containers at a time). Remove from freezer a few hours before use. It will be a firmish gel.
      You can experiment with ingredients and proportions. I think I have roughly a quarter each of flax seeds, prunes, banana, and yogurt.

      Tastes great, and no heating to alter the omega 3 content. I have one for my midday meal and another in the evening.

      [Reply to this comment]

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    I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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