Last Updated on January 30, 2024 by Lindsay Delk, RDN
Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and flaxseed flour are all derived from the same plant: the flax plant. Each of these products has unique characteristics that make flax so versatile. Let’s take a look at whole flaxseed vs. flaxseed oil vs. flaxseed flour/ground flaxseed.
This post was written by Lindsay Delk, RDN. It is for informational purposes and is not intended to replace medical advice or instructions given by your healthcare provider.
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What Is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed is a tiny seed grown around the world, and many cultures have used it for centuries. You can buy whole or ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, flax hull lignans, or other types of nutritional supplements.
Flaxseed is a versatile ingredient you can use in a variety of ways. From adding it to smoothies and oatmeal, baking with it, sprinkling flaxseed on salads, or using flaxseed oil as a dressing, there are countless ways to enjoy this nutritious food.
Flaxseed is packed with essential omega-3 fatty acids (especially ALA), dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble), protein, B vitamins, antioxidants, and several minerals. Flaxseed is also known to be high in lignans, which are antioxidant plant compounds with several health benefits.
> Omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed
The highlight of flaxseed is its high content of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats can help prevent heart disease and stroke, may play a protective roles in cancer and other conditions, and can decrease chronic inflammation, which is linked to many chronic diseases and mental health disorders.
Each form of flaxseed has its own nutritional profile and benefits, so it’s important to know which one is right for you and your needs.
> Flaxseed vs. flaxseed oil
Flaxseed oil is made from ground, cold-pressed flaxseed and has a slightly nutty taste. You can add it to smoothies, salads, or dressings or take it as a supplement.
Flaxseed is a whole food and contains fiber, lignans, and protein in addition to omega-3 fatty acids. You can add it to smoothies or baking recipes, sprinkle it over salads or yogurt bowls, or bake it in breads or muffins.
When comparing flaxseed vs. flaxseed oil, both are good sources of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA. But flaxseed has fiber and protein that flaxseed oil will not have.
> Flaxseed flour vs. ground flaxseed vs. flaxseed meal vs. milled flaxseed
Flaxseed flour, ground flaxseed, flaxseed meal, and milled flaxseed are all the same thing. They are made by grinding up whole flaxseeds.
Flaxseed flour (or ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal or milled flaxseed) has the same nutritional value as the whole seed but in a more convenient form.
Your body can digest and absorb the nutrients in flaxseed flour more easily than whole flaxseeds. Some whole flaxseed can pass through your GI tract undigested, so your body won’t get all the nutrients.
Flaxseed flour has a fine texture that you can substitute for some of the wheat flour in recipes. It adds a nutty flavor and extra nutrition to baked goods without significantly changing the texture or taste of the recipe.
> Flax hull lignans
Flax hull lignans are made by crushing and grinding the flaxseed’s seed coat, which contains the most lignans.
Lignans are antioxidants found in most plants. But flaxseed has up to 800 times more lignans than other plants. Research shows that some lignans have antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties.
But just like flaxseed oil, if you only consume the flax hull lignans, you will be missing out on the health benefits of the other flaxseed parts. I recommend consuming whole ground flaxseeds to get all the benefits.
Baking with Flaxseed
Baking with flaxseed is a great way to get the nutritional benefits of flax. You can substitute flaxseed flour for a small amount of the all-purpose flour in a recipe, but you can’t replace all the flour with flax.
> Flax for fat
Because of flaxseed’s high fat content, you can replace the oil or butter in a recipe with flaxseed flour. Use a 3:1 substitution ratio.
For example, substitute 1 cup of flaxseed flour in place of 1/3 cup of oil or butter. Be aware that baked goods with flaxseed flour tend to be more dense and brown quicker.
> Flax egg
You can also use flaxseed flour to make a vegan flax egg for baking. To make 1 vegan flax egg, mix 1 tablespoon of flaxseed flour (ground flaxseed) with 3 tablespoons of warm water and allow it to sit for at least 2 minutes.
Substitute this mixture for the egg in your recipe. With this substitution, your baked goods will be a little lower in volume and have a chewier texture.
Brown Flaxseed Vs. Golden Flaxseed
Brown flaxseed and golden flaxseed are the 2 basic varieties of flaxseed. When comparing brown flaxseed vs. golden flaxseed, they are nutritionally similar and have the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids. And you can use them interchangeably in recipes.
Linseed Vs. Flaxseed
You may wonder, “Is linseed the same as flaxseed?” Yes, linseed and flaxseed are essentially the same thing. They are both common names for the same species of plant: Linum usitatissimum.
The U.S. and Canada use the term “flaxseed” more often, but the U.K. prefers the term “linseed.” But you can use linseed and flaxseed interchangeably when discussing food.
Where To Buy Flaxseed
Flaxseed is available in most grocery stores, health food stores, and online. All the major grocery stores near me carry whole flaxseeds and flaxseed flour/ground flaxseed/flaxseed meal. Some of them carry flaxseed oil.
Some grocery stores and health food stores sell bulk flaxseed. For example, Sprouts carries brown flaxseed, golden flaxseed, and flaxseed meal in bulk.
Trader Joe’s used to carry packages of Trader Joe’s Flaxseed, Trader Joe’s Flaxseed Meal, and Trader Joe’s Ground Flaxseed at different times. Right now I don’t see that they sell any of them, but you may want to check your local store.
> Where is flaxseed in the grocery store?
You can check a couple of places for flaxseed: the baking aisle with the flours and grains, in the health food section, or in the organic section. Bulk flaxseed will be with the bulk food nuts and trail mixes. Flax oil will probably be refrigerated in the health food section.
> Buying flaxseed online
Buying online is very convenient and offers many choices. The best flaxseed brand that is widely available is Bob’s Red Mill. You can buy whole brown flaxseed, whole golden flaxseed, brown flaxseed meal, and golden flaxseed meal.
Best Grinder for Flaxseed
You may want to use whole flaxseed in some of your dishes and ground flaxseed for others. You can buy these separately, or you can buy whole flaxseed and grind it yourself when needed. Whole flaxseed also stays fresh longer than ground flaxseed.
You can grind flaxseed with a mortar and pestle, blender, or food processor. But the best grinder for flaxseed is a coffee and spice grinder because it is easy and can pulverize the tiny seeds.
Does flaxseed have gluten, or is flaxseed gluten free?
No, flaxseed does not have gluten, so it is gluten free. It is safe for those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
What is a good flaxseed meal substitute?
There are several flaxseed alternatives, such as almond flour or ground hemp seeds. But my favorite flaxseed meal substitute is ground chia seeds. They have a similar nutrition profile to flaxseed, and they give similar results in recipes.
What is the best way to store flaxseed?
You can store whole flaxseed at room temperature for up to a year. Store ground flaxseed in an opaque container in the refrigerator for 3 months or until the expiration date on the package. But you can store ground flaxseed in the freezer for even longer.
Flaxseed is a nutrient-rich food with many health benefits. Use whole flaxseed, flaxseed flour, and flaxseed oil in different ways to reap the benefits of this amazing tiny seed.