One of the oldest sources of textile fiber, flax has long been used to make linen. And its seed oil, known as linseed oil, is a key component in paints and varnishes. Whole flaxseed is also highly nutritious, containing protein, soluble fiber, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well as lignans, which have powerful antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.
If you're using whole flaxseed for its nutritional benefit, buy the cracked or milled forms, which readily give up the nutrients inside. The whole seed has a very hard shell, which the body cannot digest to get to the nutrients inside. You can also buy whole flaxseed and grind it in a coffee grinder at home. Ground flaxseed can be added to muffins, breads, and other baked goods. Or sprinkle on hot cooked cereals as you would wheat germ.
Flaxseed has a high fat content, which makes it go rancid easily. For the longest storage, keep flaxseed in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 6 months.
Using whole flaxseed
Flaxseeds can be added whole to bread doughs, quick breads, muffins, cookies, or pancake mixes for extra crunch.
Spread flaxseed in a pan or skillet in a single layer. Bake at 350F or toast over medium heat until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
To soften flaxseed
Soak flaxseeds in water overnight to soften. Add softened flaxseeds to baked goods or to cereals. You can also puree softened flaxseeds to use in shakes or soups.
Flaxseed can also be used in place of eggs in baking. Combine 1 tablespoon milled or ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water. Let stand a few minutes to thicken. Use to replace 1 egg in baked goods. Note that ground flaxseed has the binding but not the leavening properties of eggs; baked goods made with ground flaxseed instead of eggs may not be as light in texture.