Sometimes multiple terms are used for the same recipe ingredient, a frequent irritation for cooks and bakers looking to expand their horizons. For example, flax meal, flaxseed meal, flax flour and even linseed meal are all terms used for simple ground flax seed. It's often used to add heart-healthy fiber or omega-3 fatty acids to dishes, and it's cherished by vegans and those with food allergies for its ability to replace eggs in baking. You can easily make your own at home, if its health benefits have piqued your curiosity.
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The Daily Grind
Whole flax seeds are often added to recipes, especially breads and multigrain baked goods, for their nutrition, crunch and nutty flavor. Unfortunately, their seed coats are almost impervious to the human digestive system, so you'll benefit little from the whole seeds' nutritive value. To truly enjoy the seeds' potent nutritional kick, you'll need to grind them. The fresh-ground meal can be sprinkled into or over a surprising range of foods, bringing a fresh flavor and plenty of alpha-linoleic acid. You can buy the seeds pre-ground, but they quickly stale and become rancid. It's usually better to buy the whole seeds and grind them as needed, every day or two.
The Tools at Hand
Unless you need to grind flax for a bakery or cafe, you probably won't need to buy a special tool. An inexpensive blade-type coffee grinder, a blender or a food processor will do the job quite adequately. Simply measure the seeds into your grinder, and pulse them until they form a fine meal. Don't use more than your device can grind easily, or you'll produce an oily paste instead of the desired light, fluffy powder. In a coffee grinder you might only do a few tablespoons at a time. A blender can handle ¼ cup to ½ cup at a time, and a full-sized food processor can manage a full cup. Even doing the seeds in batches, you can produce enough for most recipes in just moments.
Meal as an Ingredient
The freshly ground seeds are ready to eat without any further preparation, so incorporating them into your diet – whether for their fiber or their nutritive value – can be as simple as sprinkling the meal over a salad or a bowl of cereal. It adds a mild but nutty flavor, and a slightly, but not unpleasantly sandy, texture. It can also be stirred into oatmeal or other porridge as it cooks or added to homemade granola before it's baked. Flax meal also makes a fine addition to baked goods such as breads, cookies or muffins, sharply increasing their nutrition and fiber content. Use it primarily in sturdy baked goods, in which its nuttiness and brown color will not be out of place, rather than in delicate pastries.
Meal as a Substitute
Flax meal can also be used as a substitute for other ingredients, to varying degrees. For example, it's oily enough to replace much of the fat in many recipes. For every tablespoon of oil or other fat, simply measure 3 tablespoons of flax meal. Alternatively, you can use it to replace ¼ to 1/3 of the flour in a recipe, reducing its carbohydrates and upping the fiber. Even better, ground flax is one of the few natural replacements for eggs in baking. Soak 1 tablespoon of meal in 3 tablespoons of cool water for 5 minutes; then use it to replace an egg. The seed coat's soluble fiber forms a gel that acts much like an egg white in your baking, while the seed's oil compensates for the fat of the yolk.