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:
- Sprinkle on cereal or oatmeal.
- Use with salad dressings on lettuce.
Timesaver: 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.
- Add to meatloaf, meatballs, or casseroles, a handful here and there. I actually think flaxmeal in burgers is very tasty!
- Stir into thick soups (like Three Bean Soup (Recipe available in The Everything Beans Book), Hearty Lentil Stew or Veggie Bean Burritoes) or pasta sauces just before serving.
- Mix with yogurt , smoothies , shakes, cottage cheese
- Toss into pancake batter (might need to add more water)
- 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.
- 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.
A note: Ground flax is a beast in the dishwasher. Do rinse every last bit off your dishes before turning the DW on.
- Add to salad dressings, either in an opaque bottle or right before serving.
- Add to smoothies (but not too much; strong flavor)
- In yogurt (“Mixing flax oil with yogurt helps to emulsify the oil, improving its digestion and metabolism by the body.” From Dr. Sears)
- 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.
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!
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