I remember the first time I was introduced to the humble flax-seed.
It was the early ’90’s and my papa wasn’t eating eggs as part of his macrobiotic diet. For a while we used the Ener-G egg replacer for baked goods but then one day my papa gave me some little brown seeds and told me to blend them with some water to make “eggs” for the cake. I knew at that moment that this was one special little seed.
The flavor of flax was never the big appeal to me, although I don’t mind it; it’s the health claims and it’s ability to add volume and act like eggs that has made me a consumer for over half of my life.
As you are probably aware, the oil in flax is very sensitive to heat and light. The whole seeds serve as a protective casing against the elements but once the oil is extracted or the seeds are milled the super unsaturated oil will quickly go rancid unless stored properly in a dark container in a cool place.
So what about baking or cooking with flax? I was thinking about this last night as I mixed up some crackers with flax meal.
Is baking with flax counterproductive? Does the exposure to heat in the cooking process negate any health benefits?
The answer is not clear cut.
From what I’ve learned it appears that exposure to heat starts the process of breaking down the omega-3’s but it doesn’t necessarily destroy them completely. The longer a product baked with flax sits around the longer it has time for the essential fatty acids to go rancid. To me this means that it’s alright to bake with flax at home in small batches that will be eaten quickly and can be stored in the fridge.
What about those delicious breads covered in crunchy flax seeds? The whole seed can protect the oil from a certain amount of exposure and help keep all the good fat in tact but all you’re going to get from them, nutritionally, is insoluble fiber. Fiber’s a good thing but as long as you are eating a whole foods diet most of the time it’s not necessary to suppliment. Plus, when it comes to flax it means that you are missing out on a plethora of B vitamins, protein, lignans, antioxidants, calcium, manganese, and magnesium.
I can’t find much definitive information on the ill-effects of heated flax meal but I do know that the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is often tipped when oils are heated. I will miss cooking with flax eggs and meal but I am going to stick to raw flax for the most part. More in tomorrow’s post on When Good Oils Go Bad!