I’m here to report a break-in. Apparently, someone broke into my house and stashed a three-pound bag of flax seeds in my pantry. Sure, that sounds farfetched, but only slightly more improbable than the idea that I voluntarily bought a huge sack of flax seeds and put it there.

Regardless of how the seeds got in the pantry, it was time to start using them, but how? It turns out that flax is both a nutritional powerhouse and a crunchy, nutty addition to cookies, crackers, breads and other food.

Flax seeds resemble dark brown sesame seeds, but have a very different nutritional profile. They contain heart-healthy omega-3 oils and complete protein and are high in fiber. In studies of people with high cholesterol levels, a daily serving of three tablespoons of flax seeds lowered cholesterol, especially LDL (bad) cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The seeds can be mixed in with almost any kind of grain, from cereal to rice, to add antioxidants and fiber, or ground into a flour.

Mixing flax with other seeds, including sunflower, pumpkin and chia, makes a crunchy, gluten-free cracker that can be flavored with herbs or cheese. The seeds are held together by the viscosity of the chia seeds; adding a dry cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino counterbalances the texture for a crisper cracker.

Since flax seeds have a hard, outer shell that is not fully digested, the full nutritional benefits are best accessed by either purchasing flax meal (also sold as flax flour) or grinding seeds in a coffee or spice grinder. The flax meal can be used like wheat flour, though the baking experts at King Arthur Flour recommend replacing no more than half a cup of regular flour with flax meal in baked goods.

King Arthur’s experts also note that vegans can replace a tablespoon of butter with three tablespoons of flax meal or replace eggs by mixing a tablespoon of flax meal with three tablespoons of water and letting it sit for ten minutes to develop the gel-like texture of an egg.

Non-vegans also can make use of the substitutes for butter or eggs to lower the fat in a recipe.

A cookie recipe calling for both whole flax seeds and ground flax meal offers the benefits of both forms in a crunchy, dense cookie packed with nutrients. Baked goods with flax may brown quicker than others, so it’s important to keep an eye on the oven, and also to allow plenty of cooling time to let the baked goods set up properly.

Flax meal retains the nutty flavor, though not the crunch, of whole seeds, and in addition to being incorporated in baked goods is often spooned into smoothies, yogurt or oatmeal to add protein, fiber and those heart-healthy omega-3 oils. Mixed with condiments, it forms a flavorful crust for fish.

I suppose there’s no need to report a break-in after all. I wouldn’t want the evidence to be confiscated, now that I’ve found delicious ways to use it.

Bernice Torregrossa: bernice92@aol.com.

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