Flaxseeds add a distinctive nuttiness to foods, and when used whole, they add a slight crunch and chew. That they are high in nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids is simply an added benefit. Flaxseeds are used in baked goods and smoothies, as a topping for salads and as a natural thickener, often acting as a replacement for eggs in vegan recipes. However, there are a number of other foods you can use in place of flax, though your choice will depend on the role flax played in your dish.
Not Using Flaxseeds
The high nutrient content, crunch and versatility of flaxseeds — they can be used whole or ground up — makes them difficult to fully replace in a dish. You cannot find another foodstuff that has the same combination of properties, but you can choose your flaxseed replacement to mimic the most important elements of flax. For example, if the thickening property of flax was key — as in the case of an egg substitute — then this quality in the replacement food is more important than whether or not it has a nutty flavor.
Chia seeds most commonly replace flax in recipes because they offer many similar properties. Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are naturally high in soluble fiber, so they can be used as a thickening agent, and they are also high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Both seeds are also naturally gluten-free. Chia seeds can be used like flaxseeds to make an egg substitute. Blend 1 to 3 parts powdered chia seeds to water, using 4 tablespoons of this mixture to substitute for 1 egg. Like with flaxseeds, you can add chia seeds to your morning smoothie to increase its overall nutritional value. Chia seeds can also be powdered and used similarly to flax meal in baked goods. However, because the seeds can become slimy when exposed to liquid, they are not recommended to use on top of salads or sprinkled into soups or stews.
Hempseeds come from the hemp plant, which, while it belongs to the same family, is not the same as marijuana plants. Like flaxseeds, hempseeds are naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids, and they are especially high in protein. Hempseeds contain all the essential amino acids, like flax does. Unlike flax, the seeds do not have a hard outer coating, so they are more easily digested. While hempseeds do not have the thickening ability of chia seeds and flaxseeds, they can be added to smoothies and shakes to boost nutritional content. The nutty taste of these seeds also brings a similar flavor to salads, soups and baked goods.
Egg Substitute Alternatives
Flaxseed, when ground into a meal, is most commonly used as an egg substitute in vegan baked goods. While one of the most popular options in this aspect are chia seeds, other alternatives are also available. Because flaxseed as an egg substitute does not provide any leavening ability, you only need to reproduce its binding and moistening properties. Alternatives to flax meal as an egg substitute include silken tofu and applesauce — use a quarter cup and a third cup, respectively, in place of a single egg. Other options include yogurt — use a quarter cup for 1 egg — and mashed, ripe banana. Use roughly half a banana or a quarter cup of mashed fruit for 1 egg.
References and ResourcesFlax Council of Canada: Flax FAQ
Flax Council of Canada: Flax Meal
The Kitchn: Egg Substitutes in Baking? Try Flax Seeds!
Food Renegade: How to Make Egg Substitute With Chia Seeds
Chef in You: Egg Substitutions
SHAPE Magazine: Ask the Diet Doctor - Should I Eat Flaxseeds, Chia Seeds, and Hemp Seeds?
Seed Guides: Hemp Seeds - Benefits, Nutrition, Side Effects and Facts