Flexible Flaxseed

Q: Is it important to grind flaxseed? Does doing so mean it has more potency?

A: To reap the health benefits of flaxseed’s essential oils, the seeds need to be ground or bitten into. So if you use them whole in bread or muffins, you need to bite into the seed, sort of breaking it open to release the essential oils.

Flaxseed comes from flax and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Those fats are considered good fats, the ones touted as lowering LDL (lousy) cholesterol and improving HDL (happy) cholesterol. Other healthful nutrients in flaxseed include vitamin E and fiber. Flaxseed also contains soluble and insoluble fiber and antioxidants.

Whole flaxseeds are small, oval-shaped and brownish or golden in color. Canada is the world’s leader in producing and exporting flaxseed — mainly the brown variety. More than half the fat in flaxseed is the essential omega-3 fatty acid, according to the Flax Council of Canada’s website. Golden flaxseed is produced in South Dakota.

Flaxseed is found in many products, from milk made with flaxseed oil, to cereals. It’s also used to feed chickens that are laying eggs containing higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

You can crush or grind flaxseed using a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder. It is best to grind the seeds just before using. Once ground, store any leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer.

Most grocery stores carry whole flaxseeds, flaxseed meal or ground flaxseed in brown and golden varieties. Nutritionally speaking, both are equal and there’s no set recommendation of how much to have daily. In the U.S. there are no recommendations stating a recommended daily omega-3 fatty acids intake, which is found in flaxseed, according to Darlene Zimmerman, registered dietitian, Henry Ford Health System.

If you don’t want to grind your own, buy flaxseed meal. Ground flax has a nutty flavor and can be used in many ways and in many dishes. It’s easy enough to stir ground flaxseed into your favorite smoothie or yogurt or morning oatmeal. But there’s plenty more after that. Here are a few from the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen and www.flaxcouncil.ca:

  • Sprinkle the ground flax on hot or cold cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese and salads.
  • Stir ground flax into smoothies, orange juice and other drinks.
  • Use ground flax as a crust for baked fish.
  • Whole and ground flaxseed can be added to just about any baked good.
  • Add flaxseeds or flax meal to casseroles, such as pasta dishes and meat loaves or use it as a part of the breading on meats to be baked.
  • As an egg replacer in recipes for pancakes, muffins and cookie mix, add 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water. Let the mixture sit for 1 to 2 minutes before adding to the recipe when it calls for eggs. Keep in mind the texture may be slightly different. It’s best to do a test recipe first.

Take care when storing flaxseeds or flaxseed meal; either can go rancid because of the high oil content. Stored properly, the whole seeds or meal will keep — tightly sealed in a plastic bag — in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 1 year.

(Detroit Free Press/TNS)