Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Secret Ingredient

Can any of you recognize the above food without any hints?

It's flax seed.

This stuff is amazing. And I've only recently discovered that.

Now, true, my mother has kept flax seed around the kitchen for several years, and every now and then it would get thrown in a recipe or sprinkled on top of hot cereal. ...So I've known what flax seed is, but that's not the same as knowing how to use it and what it's good for.

Mom always said "it's good for you," and I didn't quibble about adding some to my oatmeal or pancakes, but I never really added enough to taste it, and I never bothered to find out why it was "good for you."

I never bothered, that is, until one night at some friends' house, when my interest was stirred. The mother of the family served us some delicious homemade pizza, and of course we started discussing recipes. I couldn't figure out what I was tasting in her crust, but I knew it was great. It tasted a little exotic, like something I'd imagined from a fancy European restaurant. Not the standard American meat-cheese-salt-and-pepper flavor, but a spicy-nutty-Italian-herb-something-or-nother. (Okay, so I need to work on the descriptive department of my vocabulary!)

At first I thought it was the flour. No, she said she used home-ground Prairie Gold. That's what we've used. When I gave up, she told me she had added ground flax seed to the dough. She had also brushed olive oil on the crust. I think a combination of those two ingredients was what I was tasting.

So next time I made pizza, I added....yes, you guessed it! Flax seed! And olive oil. I loved the taste. My family seemed to like it too, though some of them didn't notice a difference. Those who did taste it liked it.

So I tried adding flax seed to the next loaf of bread I made. That was good too! It seemed to improve both the texture and the flavor. I was thrilled! I started throwing a 1/4 cup of ground flax seed into everything [bread-wise] I made.

About that time I thought it'd be good to know what magic nutrients I was adding to my recipes. What I found thrilled me even more:

Flax seed is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid. Human beings need two types of fatty acid in their system; omega-3 fatty acid, and omega-6 fatty acid. The ideal ratio of these is 1:2, or two times as much omega-6 as omega-3.

Americans have no problem eating two times as much o
mega-6 as omega-3! The average American fatty acid ratio is more like 1:20 or 1:50. Instead of eating double omega-6, we're eating more like forty times omega-6. Big difference!!!

So by eating flax seed, you're contributing to the omega-3 fatty acids, and helping to balance the ratio in your body. Consuming a small about of flax seeds every single day is a great idea. All the sources I've heard from or read say that you really can't eat too much flax seed. Of course, if your body isn't used to a lot of fiber, you'd better start out with small helpings, or else you'll overload your body. You also need to drink a LOT of water while consuming large quantities of flax seed, because it uses up a lot of water in order to do its stuff inside your body. But, hey, you need to drink more anyway, right?

Omega-3 fatty acids are good for the health of your heart, and flax seed also contains lignans, which may be an antioxidant, but that hasn't been proved yet.

Flax seed also contains a LOT of fiber, and I'm sure you've been told millions of times that fiber is good for you. Think of it like those bristle brushes you use to clean out tight spaces - scrubbing the walls clean and whisking away dirt. Fiber cleans your intestines and also balances blood sugar. Few foods are as high in fiber as flax seed.

Remember when God told Adam and Eve that the fruits and their seeds were given to them for meat? If you ever study the nutrients of seeds, you will find that they contain many nutrients that are excellent cancer preventatives. Flax seed, being a seed, has this property as well.

Flax seed is high in most of the B vitamins, and also has magnesium and manganese.

Talk about loaded!

So that's why it's good for us. But what about how to use it? Besides in bread, that is. :)

First of all, I ought to mention that you must
grind your flax seed if it's going to do you any good. Being a seed, it is encased in God's wonderful container to keep seeds safe through the travels they go on before finding soil and planting themselves. A seed is well protected against many things - including your digestive system. If you eat these seeds whole, they will most likely leave you whole.

Ground flax seed smells lovely, and looks like this:

You can grind a lot of seeds at once, or just the amount you need at the time. Once the oil in the seeds is exposed to air, it will go rancid pretty quickly, so be sure to store any un-used ground seeds in the refrigerator, in a dark container.

A small coffee grinder is perfect for grinding up the seeds. Just a few seconds and you're done.

Then what do you add it to?

Anything that would taste good with a little oily-nutty flavor added to it. Personally, I like to sprinkle it on oatmeal, pancakes (mixed with honey - the perfect spread!), and in peanut butter sandwiches. Today I read two new recipes I'd like to try; cottage cheese with flax seed, and hot flax seed cereal (ground flax seeds used like oatmeal; pour boiling water on them, add peanut butter, cinnamon, a little cocoa powder, and top with milk!).

I've also been told that you can use flax seed as egg substitute. Mix 1 TBS ground flax seed with 3TBS water, stir, and let sit until it starts to gel. Supplements 1 egg.

You see, flax seed has a "gel"-ing property. It will add to the texture of baked goods, just like eggs will.

That means....are you ready for this? I mean really ready?...

Guess what some of our fore-mothers used before hairspray or hair-gel was around?

Uh-huh. Flax seed gel.

P.S. For those of you who have been following The Saga of the Condensed-Cream-of-Turkey-Soup, (Part 1 here, Part 2 here), you might be interested to know that I thawed some turkey broth and made a new batch of that soup last night; this time using a lighter-tasting flour. It wasn't quite white flour, but it wasn't heavy wheat, either. The soup turned out much lighter in color, and tasted much better...except that next time I'll add more onion and garlic powder. It could use some more "kick."

Mom used the soup in chicken-pot-pie. ...And guess what? No comments. I don't think my brothers even noticed a difference! Hurrah!


Mrs. Hurzeler said...

Flax seed is great. We use to add some in our yogurt to make a small snack seem more substantial. Also flax seed is delicious on pancakes, but maybe you already mentioned that. LOL. I grew up in the Canadian prairies and that is where alot of the flax is grown. Just a little bit of country pride. :-) Hope you all have a great Christmas. God Bless You and your family.

Amber said...

Thank you for commenting, Mrs. Hurzeler; welcome! I didn't know that Canadian prairies grow a lot of flax. That's an interesting bit of trivia! May you have a lovely Christmas as well.

Amanda said...

We've used flax seed in different things before, although we haven't put it in as many things as you have. For a while, we put it in everything we ate: tomato soup, grits... whatever. :) We got out of the habit, though. We've also used it as egg substitute many times. A note about that: DON'T use it as egg sub. in a store-bought brownie mix!!! (If you want to know why, I can tell you in a letter sometime - it's kind of a long story... :))

all for Jesus said...

Mmm! I love flax seed oil. I have never had just plain flax seeds though. I LOVE putting it on oatmeal! It tastes good and is good for you.


Jenny P. said...

You inspired me. When I went grocery shopping the other day, there in the bulk bin department, was a big container of flax seed. I bought just a little (probably a half-cup) and plan on experimenting with it this week. I'm glad I re-read tho, because I missed the part about grinding it.

Amber said...

You make me very curious, Amanda; I would love to hear that story!

Naomi, I've never had flax seed oil, but I've wondered what it tastes like. I do like the ground seeds on my oatmeal, so I would guess the oil would be good on it too!

Jenny P., I would love to hear about how your experimenting turns out! What do you plan to use it in?