Flax Seed has been lauded for its nutritional benefits since the time of Hippocrates in 650 B.C., but the gluten-free movement has brought more attention to this tiny seed than ever before.
With so many recipes calling for flax in various forms, and questions about the best way to integrate it into baking, I thought it was time for a bit of a lesson on flax. You can watch the video below for the full class, or read the summary below for the basics and links to research. Ready? Let the Breaducation begin!
What is Flax?
Flax is a tiny seed, dark brown or golden in color that comes from the flax plant. Flax is a reed-like plant whose fibers are excellent for weaving. The Maori culture in New Zealand has long used flax-woven clothing and materials, and the practice has spread world-wide as a fabric we call “linen.”
How is it used in baking?
When moistened, flax seed creates a mucilage (gel) that can act as a “binder” in gluten-free or egg-free recipes. Here are a few ways to use flax seed:
- Eating whole flax seed will not give you any nutritional benefits other then added “roughage” in your diet, since the gel produced by moistened flax protects it completely from digestion.
- Whole flax seeds can be used for aesthetics in bread, granola, or as a garnish on salads or other savory dishes.
- Flax Seed roasted lightly in a skillet releases a beautiful aroma and tasty oils that your body can utilize, and adds flavor to whatever you add them to.
- Can be purchased or ground at home in a Magic Bullet or coffee grinder (I grind my own)
- Can be added to just about anything: bread, oatmeal, soup, shakes, ice cream (haha just seeing if you’re awake)
- 1 Tablespoon ground flax meal, when mixed with 2-3 Tablespoons water and left to sit for a few minutes, creates a goopy vegan “egg” that can be used as a binder in many recipes. (see video for demonstration)
Tips & Tricks for Baking with Flax
- You can adjust the thickness of your flax “egg” by adding more or less water to your flax meal depending on how dry or wet your batter needs to be.
- Recipes that call for more than 2-3 tablespoons of flax meal will typically bake out to be heavier, and gooey-er. Flax “eggs” do not bake the same as real eggs. Add too many and they tend towards sogginess.
- If relying on flax as a binder (especially in recipes calling for large amounts of flax) baking in smaller tins (like muffins or mini-loaves) will help the batter rise higher and maintain structure during baking. (see video for examples)
- Adding more leavener (like baking soda) will not help flax-bound batter rise higher, it will only increase the likelihood that the baked good will collapse after baking.
Dangers of Consuming Flax: Research
Flax seed is a living thing prepared and equipped to protect itself against digestion. It has many health benefits when taken cautiously and “medicinally” but can be dangerous when over-consumed.
- Poor omega 3 conversion. Our body is not very efficient at converting the omega 3’s in flax into a useable source (DHA and EPA). The result is excess levels of ALA cholesterol floating around our systems.
- Omega 6’s vs. Omega 3’s: In short, Omega 3’s are good for us (think salmon), but Omega 6’s not so much (think vegetable oil). Your body needs converted Omega 3’s (DHA and EPA) to “block out” the bad Omega 6’s. Since our bodies do a poor conversion job, we end up absorbing more 6’s.
- In males, increased ALA in the bloodstream has been linked to higher percentage of prostate cancer:
- In pregnant females, flax is discouraged from the diet as it has been known to cause preterm labor.
- Flax is high in phytic acid, an aggressive anti-nutrient that causes trouble in our bodies.
Flax seed is awesome in so many ways, but should be carefully consumed. There is a reason flax seed is expensive. Mother nature does not make it abundantly available (as opposed to crops like zucchini) and so it should be eaten in measured moderation.