Flaxseeds 101: How (and Why) to Use Them in Cooking and Baking

Walk through any health food market and you’ll find that flaxseed has become a popular addition to everything from breakfast cereals to pet food. Here’s what you need to know about nutty-tasting, nutrient-dense flaxseeds and how to choose, store, and use them in your own kitchen.

What are flaxseeds?

Flax is one of the eight founding cultures that were domesticated during the Neolithic period more than 8,000 years ago. Over the millennia, flax has been cultivated for the oil that can be pressed from its seeds and for the linen fabrics and rope that are made from its fibrous stalks. Flax made its way to North America in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that cooks and health professionals became more interested in flaxseed as a food. Today, North America produces the most flaxseed in the world; The plants grow particularly well in the cool climates of the Canadian prairies, North Dakota and Montana.

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Flaxseeds can be dark brown or golden in color and have a distinctive glossy sheen. Both varieties have a slightly nutty flavor that intensifies when ground into flour. Opt for golden flaxseeds in recipes where color is important; brown flaxseed sprinkle light doughs and dishes with dark pieces.

Are Flaxseed and Flaxseed the Same?

Yes! In general, today the term “flaxseed” is used when the seeds are intended for human consumption, while “flaxseed” is used in relation to manufactured products such as wood varnish and animal feed.

Nutrients and health benefits

Flax seeds are the richest plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. They also have the highest levels of lignans, phytoestrogen compounds that have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease. Flaxseeds are also an excellent source of protein and fiber. Like other foods high in soluble fiber, ground flaxseed can help keep LDL cholesterol under control, improve digestive health, and relieve constipation.

To maximize the health benefits of flaxseed, consider grinding it before eating. Ground flaxseed meal is easier for the body to digest than whole seeds.

How to make ground flaxseed (flaxseed flour).

Ground flaxseed, also known as flaxseed meal, is available at most well-stocked supermarkets, but it’s also easy (and cheaper!) to make your own. Simply grind ¼ cup of flaxseeds in a coffee or spice grinder until the seeds are ground into a powder. Flaxseed needs to be ground in small batches using a high power grinder (not a food processor) to get a fine meal.

Store flaxseed meal in an opaque, airtight container in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer. Refrigerating or freezing the meal will keep it fresh for longer. Because of their high oil content, both whole and ground flaxseeds can go rancid over time.

How to cook with flaxseed flour

Flaxseed meal is probably best known as an egg substitute, but it can be used for so much more! Here’s just one example of how it can enhance your favorite recipes:

  • Smoother Salad Dressings: Flaxseed meal can be used to emulsify salad dressings such as oil-free vinaigrettes.
  • Crispier Air Roasted Vegetables: Our fingerling potato air fry recipe is a great example of how a mixture of flaxseed flour and water can create a crunchy coating for roasted and air fried vegetables.
  • Crunchy muesli: Add a tablespoon or two of flaxseed flour to a granola recipe to make it crunchier.
  • Creamier Cereals: Stir a tablespoon or two of flaxseed meal into warm breakfast cereal or overnight oats for added richness.
  • Nutty topping: Roast whole flaxseeds in a dry pan; Allow to cool and then grind coarsely for a tasty addition to salads and buddha bowls.
  • Softer baked goods: A tablespoon or two of flaxseed flour stirred into bread doughs and batters keeps them extra moist and tender.
  • Tasty popcorn: Sprinkle air popped popcorn with flaxseed flour as an alternative to melted butter.

How to Make a Flax Egg (Egg Substitute)

Flaxseed eggs are one of the easiest ways to make baking recipes vegan. For each flax egg, whisk together 3 tbsp. water in 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed and let stand 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. You can use the same technique with chia seeds, another favorite of vegan bakers.

How to use flaxseed flour in gluten free baking

Flaxseed meal can be used in two ways in gluten-free baking: as a whole grain addition to gluten-free flour mixes (about ⅕ of the total flour used) or as a high-fiber 1:1 alternative to xanthan gum (a gluten-free way to add stickiness and structure to dough).

Try it out in these recipes

Do you want to bring more flax into your kitchen? Check out some of our favorite recipes that use flaxseed or flaxseed flour.

Baking with flaxseed

Vegan gluten free pecan cookies on a dark background

Other Flaxseed Recipes

Nopales cactus fries on a platter with creamy dipping sauce

Want to learn more basic vegan cooking skills and become a plant-based home cook in 90 days? Check out the Forks over Knives cooking class!

Ground and whole flax seeds on a wooden table

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