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Let’s have a little chat about flax. Yes, I’m talking about the plant whose fibers linen has been made from for thousands of years but since this is The Local Dish, I am especially referring to the tiny little brown flax seed that is commonly called linseed. You know the flax seed, the one whose healthful attributes seem to have claimed bragging rights these days on many bottles and jars of supplements in the medicinal aisles in not only most community food coops but also in big box pharmacies. But long before flax oil was being put into capsules as a helpful preventative measure against heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer – to name only a few health issues that flax consumption can help fight, as far back as 3000 BC people have been enjoying it’s nutty flavor in food.

Step out of the nutritional aisle and into many other food sections of your local grocery store and you will find flax in crackers, waffles, hot and cold cereals, and most importantly, the bulk food section – where you should be able to stock up on flaxseeds, ground or milled flax, and flax oil. Flax seeds range in color from golden brown to a more reddish hue and although they are small and slippery, their health benefits are enormous and solid. While the little seed contains all sorts of healthy components, its most essential “big bang” components include:

  • Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s
  • Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
  • Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.

We can thank Canada for being the world’s largest grower of flax today, as well as for having a zero tolerance policy regarding GMO’s, so we know that our flax is clean and truly healthy. So, how do you enjoy your flax seeds? Does it go down hidden in a wee capsule that your nutritionist recommended, or do you like to add it into your cooking and crunch it between your teeth? Experts say its better to consume flaxseed than flax oil (which contains just part of the seed) so you get the most out of it, and though the optimum dose to obtain benefits is still being determined, 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day is what is currently suggested by the Flax Council of Canada.

Ellie’s Whole Grains has a great article on ways to enjoy flax as well as several recipes that look promising, and I also like these tips for using, buying, and storing flaxseed:

  • Buy it ground or grind it yourself. Flaxseed, when eaten whole, is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means your body doesn’t get all the healthful components. If you want to grind flaxseed yourself, those little electric coffee grinders seem to work best.
  • Milled = ground = flax meal. Don’t be confused by the different product names for ground flaxseed. Milled or ground flaxseed is the same thing as flax meal.
  • Buy either brown or golden flaxseed. Golden flaxseed is easier on the eyes, but brown flaxseed is easier to find in most supermarkets. There is very little difference nutritionally between the two, so the choice is up to you.
  • Find it in stores or on the Internet. Many supermarket chains now carry ground flaxseed (or flax meal). It’s usually in the flour or “grain” aisle or the whole-grain cereal section and is often sold in 1-pound bags. You can also find it in health food stores or order it on various web sites.
  • Check the product label. When buying products containing flaxseed, check the label to make sure ground flaxseed, not whole flaxseed, was added. Flaxseed is a featured ingredient in cereals, pasta, whole grain breads and crackers, energy bars, meatless meal products, and snack foods.
  • Add flaxseed to a food you habitually eat. Every time you have a certain food, like oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt, stir in a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Soon it will be a habit and you won’t have to think about it, you’ll just do it.
  • Hide flaxseed in dark, moist dishes. The dishes that hide flaxseed the best are dark sauces or meat mixtures. No one tends to notice flaxseed when it’s stirred into enchilada casserole, chicken parmesan, chili, beef stew, meatloaf, or meatballs. For a 4-serving casserole, you can usually get away with adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed. For a dish serving 6 to 8, use 4 to 8 tablespoons.
  • Use it in baking. Substitute ground flaxseed for part of the flour in recipes for quick breads, muffins, rolls, bread, bagels, pancakes, and waffles. Try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour with ground flaxseed if the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour.
  • Keep it in the freezer. The best place to store ground flaxseed is the freezer. Freeze pre-ground flaxseed in the bag you bought it in or in a plastic sealable bag if you ground it yourself. The freezer will keep the ground flax from oxidizing and losing its nutritional potency.
  • Whole flaxseed keeps longer. The outside shell in whole flaxseed appears to keep the fatty acids inside well protected. It’s a good idea to keep your whole flaxseed in a dark, cool place until you grind it. But as long as it is dry and of good quality, whole flaxseed can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.
Homemade Flax Crackers Photo by Martha Lee Phelps

Homemade Flax Crackers Photo by Martha Lee Phelps

Personally, I like my flax in the form of pure flaxseed homemade crackers. I got the idea from my friend Roanna Rosewood, owner of Ashland’s Pangea cafe. She’s been playing with flax flavors in her kitchen at home. I’m still working out my recipe too, and promise to share it here on The Local Dish as soon as the proportions get sorted out. Rest assured, they are munchie crunchy goodness that call for a bit of creamy hummus on the side and possibly a cold beer for proper hydration. They also demand a “post cracker toothpick,” but they are worth it for every savory healthy bite. Stay tuned for more flax news in the near future.