The plant-based health trends currently captivating the food industry have brought many obscure and unknown ancient grains and edible seeds to the forefront for many consumers around the globe. Flaxseeds fall into this category, however, their popularity as a commercial crop was arguably very well established before these food trends began to scale. North American commercial production of flax began in earnest shortly after WWII but it began in Canada almost 400 years ago. In the US, the main growing region is in the northern plains with North Dakota claiming a vast majority.
Globally, flax is grown in several countries that have cooler more temperate climates however, not all of them are significant to the commercial trade. From a production and export lens, the key players are Russia and Canada. Together they probably produce 30-40% of the global supply and export vast majorities of their production. From the consumption perspective the EU and China are the leaders.
As a crop, flax has a case for being one of the most versatile. The demand diversity it commands from not only the seed, but the plant, is remarkable. The health benefits of consuming the seed whole or ground is well documented. Its nutrition profile is impressive, boasting high marks in dietary fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids while also providing antioxidant properties that have been linked to improved health outcomes.
The mild, nutty flavor of flax makes it a good fit for sweet and savory applications. It’s often used in grain or seed blends as an inclusion for breads, cookies, snacks and bars. Some formulators have also used flax as a vegan replacement for eggs or fat. Bay State Milling offers whole and ground brown flaxseed as well as whole golden flax.
The seed’s value is also in its oil content and by-product of the crushing process, flax meal, which is segregated and sold into the feed market for similar health benefits in a feed ration. Once in oil form it’s most commonly known as linseed oil, and is mainly used for industrial purposes as well a nutritional supplement and flavor enhancer. The oil is classified as a drying oil, which once mixed with other oils and compounds is used as a natural binder for paints and varnishes, the most well-known of which is linoleum.
The health benefits and uses above have obviously played a large role in the seeds prevalence and growth throughout history. What most people don’t know is that its true beginnings have little to do with the seed. Its original popularity has its foundation from the actual flax plant, which is exclusively due to its natural fiber. This fiber, in the literal sense of the term, when dried and processed, makes a textile that we know as linen. A fabric that has adorned the Pharaoh’s of antiquity to the drapes of modern households. To this day the oldest evidence of flax comes from linen found in archaeological digs throughout the ancient world, the oldest of which is 30,000 years old.
This blog was a team effort from the Mini-Milling and Blending Supply Chain Team.