What's the difference between flaxseeds and linseeds?
Flaxseeds (also known as Linum usitatissimum) are tiny, edible seeds that come from a small flowering plant. The flaxseed has a hard shell and is mottled in colour. It’s totally edible, with a slightly nutty taste and a hint of sweetness. Flaxseeds are widely available at health food stores, supermarkets, and online.
Linseeds are also derived from the plant species Linum usitatissimum, which is simply a hulled version of the same seed. Linseeds are also called brown or golden flaxseeds. They have a mild flavour and can be added to smoothies, cereals, and baked goods.
Both flaxseeds and linseeds are not much bigger than sesame seeds, with a characteristic shape that’s both flatter and wider. Flaxseeds/linseeds are derived from the same genus Linaceae. The main difference between flaxseeds and linseeds is that the latter is hulled and lighter in colour.
History and uses of flax
It might be more useful to identify the differences between linseed and flax (the plant). Linseed is the more commonly known edible seed, which generates an invaluable oil. Whereas flax is a textile that can be weaved into linen, strong ropes or fishing nets. In fact, flax has a long and well-known history as one of the world's oldest fibres, with evidence of its use in textiles dating back to at least 8000 BC. In the ancient world, it was used for everything from clothing, bedding and sails for ships. Flax was so important to early civilizations that it was even used as currency.
In the ancient world, its uses were ever-evolving. From being woven into clothing and tapestries to producing linen fabric, clothing, bedding, sails and rope. Flax fibres are naturally absorbent and durable - perfect for making bath mats, furniture, towels and even mattresses. In more recent times, it has become popular for sustainable fashion items such as bags, scarves, hats and t-shirts.
What are some uses of linseed oil?
Linseed oil has a variety of non-nutritional uses. It is widely used in the production of paints, varnishes and industrial coatings due to its low pH level. This oil has also been used for centuries as a wood finish, protecting wood from cracking, splitting and fading. It also adds water resistance and a deep, rich colour to timber furniture.
Nutrient content of flaxseeds and linseeds
Since these little seeds are essentially the same, we can conclude that linseeds and flaxseeds have the same nutritional content. They’re an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamins B1 and B6, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
An added nutritional benefit of these seeds is the addition of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant polyphenol compounds that mimic the hormone oestrogen, which may help reduce menopause symptoms and promote healthy skin.
Health benefits associated with flaxseeds and linseeds
Rich in polyphenols and antioxidants, linseeds are a treasured source of dietary supplements and functional foods. Their bioactive components confer notable health benefits to people who consume them.
Some of the most recent research shows that flaxseeds help in metabolic syndrome, a condition linked to diabetes and obesity. A 2022 systematic review revealed that flaxseed oil consumption reduces blood pressure and improves symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome.
The outer fibrous part of flaxseeds contains a plant compound called a lignan. These are naturally occurring phytochemicals that appear in many different foods, with a specific type found in flaxseeds that offers health-giving properties. Lignans have a unique structure that gives them powerful antioxidant actions, making them important for maintaining overall health. Other foods high in lignans include sesame seeds, chia seeds, legumes, whole grains and some fruits and vegetables.
Lignans have been linked to a variety of potential health benefits such as improved heart health, better blood sugar regulation and protection against certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Recent research also demonstrates that dietary flaxseed oil improves alcoholic liver disease symptoms. This is due to the anti-inflammatory properties this seed naturally possesses, as well as its effects on modulating gut bacteria. This inexpensive intervention could prove a viable solution for the prevention and treatment of liver disease due to alcoholism.
How To Store Linseeds/Flaxseeds
Linseeds are versatile and nutrient-rich seeds that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, protein, and other vitamins and minerals. However, it is important to store them properly in order to maximise their nutritional value and shelf life. Linseeds should be stored away from heat or light sources to avoid spoiling. Their unsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidation and can go ‘off’, start to taste bitter and essentially lose their nutritional value.
Linseeds should also be kept dry at all times. If you purchase linseed meal or pre-ground seeds, it’s best to keep them sealed in an airtight container, or ideally in the fridge. Whole linseeds can typically last up to one year or longer when stored correctly and away from heat, light and air.
Here are some helpful tips for cooking with linseeds:
- For an extra nutty flavour, toast the linseeds lightly before using them in your recipe.
- To get the most nutrition from linseeds, sprout them before consuming them. This helps break down their tough outer coating and makes them easier to digest.
- Use cold-pressed linseed oil when cooking to avoid it breaking down at high temperatures and losing its nutritional value.
- Store linseeds away from light, heat and moisture to preserve their freshness and crunchy texture.
Ways to enjoy flaxseeds and linseeds
If you’re looking to incorporate flaxseeds and linseeds into your diet, try adding a spoonful to smoothies, muffins, pancakes, cookies, salads, cereals, or even yoghurt.
Ways To Include Flaxseeds In Your Diet
- Sprinkle raw or toasted linseeds over cereal, yoghurt, or salads.
- Mix into homemade granola bars or energy bites.
- Use them as a crust for fish or chicken.
- Blend into a smoothie for added nutrition and texture.
- Add them to savoury dishes such as stir-fries, soups, and curries for an extra crunchy topping.
- Roast them in the oven with a bit of oil and salt for a delicious snack.
- Grind the seeds into a flour and use it to make pancakes, waffles, muffins or other baked goods.
- Make your own linseed crackers by blending the seeds with spices and water, then baking in the oven until crispy.
- Cook up small batches of sprouted linseeds to add nutrition and crunch to salads and sandwiches.
Alternatively, another popular way to enjoy linseeds is as a mix of linseeds, sunflower seeds and almond meal or LSA.
For maximum health benefits, grinding the seeds can help with bioavailability. This means they’re more easily digested and your body can absorb the nutrients more easily. It’s also best to buy organic, high-quality seeds wherever possible to reduce exposure to pesticides and harmful industrial chemicals.
How to use flaxseeds/linseeds as an egg replacement
Did you know that linseeds can be used as an egg replacement for baking recipes?
To do this, mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. This creates a thick, viscous liquid that acts as an effective binder in baked goods recipes such as muffins, pancakes and cookies. This is perfect if you have aversions to eggs or need a vegan/vegetarian substitute in baking.
Now you know the key differences between flaxseeds and linseeds, what nutrients they each contain, what health benefits they offer and how to include them in your diet. Plus, you've got a delicious recipe that celebrates flaxseeds in banana bread to try out. Flaxseeds/linseeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and lignans. Enjoying both flaxseeds and linseeds in your diet is sure to improve your overall health and well-being.
Cacao & Flaxseed Smoothie
- 1 ripe avocado
- 1 tablespoon of raw cacao powder
- 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds
- 2 cups of unsweetened almond milk or other plant-based milk
- 1 scoop whey or vegan protein powder
- 2 tablespoons of honey (optional)
- Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Adjust sweetener to taste if desired.
- Pour into glasses and enjoy.