When we think of superfoods, we tend to think of exotic, novel-sounding ingredients as being better than the common products that are readily available such as broccoli, berries, beetroot or oats. This article will focus on one such superfood – flaxseed – which goes by the Latin name ‘Linum Usitatissimum’ and means “most useful”. I want to take a deep-dive into the make-up and functions of edible flaxseed taking into account its uses from a manufacturer and commercial perspective as it may be of interest to those considering using flaxseed as a natural ingredient in pending product launches or modifications to existing products.From a sensory perspective, flaxseed has a light nutty, buttery flavour with little to no smell. Due to their colour, the golden flax seeds can easily be hidden in certain food preparations. This would be very helpful when feeding golden flax seeds to children or picky eaters. Flaxseed is a versatile food source (Kajla et al., 2015) with many functionalities, health benefits and commercial opportunities to be revealed to those who are willing to embrace the challenges ahead of enhancing bioavailability (e.g. reduce antinutritional factors, Kajla et al. 2015) and emerging commercial opportunities in different industries and categories such as foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and medicine (Liu et al., 2018). Beyond foods, I can see immediate relevance and applications in natural cosmetics and other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) such as toothpaste and shampoos.
Flaxseed as a multifunctional ingredientVarious edible forms of flaxseed are available in the food market – whole flaxseeds, germinated, milled flaxseed, roasted flaxseed and flaxseed oil. It is a multi-component system with bio-active plant substances such as fat, protein, dietary fibre, soluble polysaccharides, most abundant source of lignans, phenolic and flavonoid compounds (Wang et al., 2017), vitamins and minerals. Due to all these nutrients, flaxseed may provide a lot of advantages such as improved digestion, clearer skin, lower cholesterol and balanced hormones levels, many of which are benefits that are in high demand from modern consumers. It is commonly known that flaxseeds are high in soluble (mucilage gums) and insoluble (cellulose and lignin) natural fibres that help to sweep out the colon, act as prebiotics, increase bowel movements, regulate blood glucose and cholesterol levels and aid detoxification. What may not be so well established is the adaptogenic effect of increasing and decreasing bowel movement depending on what your body needs. Research suggests that the fibres behave like a soothing film or weak gel that protects the gut lining. This mucilage may also act like a lubricant that facilitates internal transit and movements. Note the optimal pH range for the viscosity of flaxseed mucilage is 6-8, the pH environment in human intestines. In addition to fibres, flaxseed contains fats including significant innate levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, omega-3 fatty acid), proteins (Marambe and Wanasundara, 2017) and is a rich source of ubiquitous lignans (acting both as antioxidants and phytoestrogens involved in the prevention and treatment of heart disease). Early research suggests that lignan-enriched flaxseed powder supplementation may provide beneficial effects such as a reduction in body weight and fat accumulation, the lipid profile improvement, and blood pressure control (Park and Velasquez, 2012).
What about the formulation?Flaxseed will contribute to the nutritional label and can also be a highly multifunctional filler and bulking agent which is very relevant in reformulated products with reduced fat or sugar quantities. With unique water and fat binding and holding capacity, gels made from ground flaxseed have unusual visco-elastic properties upon heating/cooling, changes in pH and shear stress. By adding ground flaxseed to product development and formulations, it gives food scientists, technologists, culinary experts and manufacturers an opportunity to explore original mouthfeel and textures in product categories such as:
- Ready-to-Drink (RTD) or Ready-to-Eat (RTE) functional and nutritional foods and beverages such as porridge, soups and smoothies
- Plant-based desserts
- Yogurt (Ardabilchi Marand et al. 2020)
- Sauces and condiments
- Fresh noodles (Zhu and Li, 2019)
- Baked goods (Kaur et al., 2019; Sęczyk et al., 2017)
- Meat and cheese analogues
- Porridge, soups and smoothies
- Specialised or Senior nutrition products to address targeted medical needs (e.g. dysphagia)