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No flak for flax

Known as aliv in Marathi, these seeds have been an integral ingredient in the Marathi kitchen since ages. Aliv laddoos are like any other laddoo but they have some great health benefits, writes star chef Sanjeev Kapoor.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2009 13:16 IST
Sanjeev Kapoor

Some things come a full circle! Take flax seeds for example. Known as aliv in Marathi, these seeds have been an integral ingredient in the Marathi kitchen since ages. Aliv laddoos are like any other laddoo but they have some great health benefits.

Packed with goodness
Flax seeds are the latest in health circles for being one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are beneficial in reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease. They are also rich in fibre and a compound called lignin.

While fish eaters get their Omega-3 from fish, vegetarians can try flax seeds. Flax seeds are also called linseeds. Flax seed oil is first cold pressed from flax seeds, providing edible oil. The seeds are then hot pressed to produce industrial oil and a solvent, known as linseed oil, which is not edible. As the seeds are edible we will focus on them as an additional ingredient in yeast breads or sprinkled on cereal and salads.

The ancient Egyptians used flax seeds for nutritional and medicinal purposes as well as making clothes, fishnets and other products. They were earlier ground into flour. Small and brown, the seeds are often used as a food additive because of their delicious nutty flavour and nutritional
benefits.

How to use
Flax seeds are easily available in food stores. They can be either golden or chocolate brown in colour (slightly larger than sesame seeds with a mild flavour). You can chose either as there is no significant nutritional difference.

Ingesting a tablespoon of lightly roasted crushed flax seeds with a glass of water first thing in the morning is a healthy way to start the day. This is approximately one gram of Omega-3 fatty acids and lots of fibre. The seeds bloat up in water and give a feeling of fullness. They can also be used as a thickener for shakes and smoothies too.

Handle with care
There are a few things one needs to bear in mind while using flax seeds.

Avoid eating them whole. They cannot be digested.

It is best to lightly roast the seeds in a kadai till they start crackling.

Raw flax seeds contain a substance called cyanate which can be harmful to the body in large quantities.

Remember to start with small quantities if you aren’t used to a high fibre diet.

Ideally, one should grind the roasted flax seeds in a grinder.

Eat right

Make a chutney by grinding one cup roasted flax seeds with seven to eight dried red chillies, a whole pod of garlic and some salt. It tastes well with curd rice or daal-chawal.

Add a tablespoon of ground flax seeds to regular breakfast cereal.

Add a teaspoon to your mayonnaise or mustard as you spread it on bread for sandwiches.

Mix a tablespoon into yogurt for a snack.

Add a tablespoon to your sauce or rice or pasta.

Mix a teaspoon into your salad dressing or sprinkle directly onto your salad.

Bake into cookies, muffins, breads and other baked goodies. Fortunately, flax seeds do not significantly change the taste or texture of the product.

(The writer is a master chef, author and television host. Email at enquiry@sanjeevkapoor.com)