Flaxseed oil, also known as linseed oil or flax oil, is obtained from ripened flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum).
What does flaxseed oil taste like? Fresh flaxseed oil smells tangy, a bit like hay. It tastes nutty, lightly roasted, and may even have a slightly fishy flavor.
Flaxseed oil can be added to muesli, yogurt, and quark, as well as salad dressings and dips. Flaxseed oil is highly sensitive to oxidation, so we recommend using freshly ground flaxseed instead of prepackaged flaxseed oil. See Erb Muesli and Erb Muesli with Rolled Oats for recipes that call for freshly ground flaxseed.
In regions of Central Europe such as Lusatia, Saxony, Silesia, and Upper Austria, flaxseed oil is traditionally used in dishes such as baked potatoes with quark, cucumber salad, and pickled herring in cream sauce. Flaxseed oil is used as a layer to prevent food from turning acidic, which was particularly important before the invention of refrigeration. In Upper Austria, flaxseed oil is listed on the register of traditional foods.1
Can you fry with flaxseed oil? What temperatures can flaxseed oil safely be heated to? Flaxseed oil is not suitable for steaming or frying. The oil is primarily made up of polyunsaturated, reactive fatty acids that transform at temperatures just over 100 °C. If flaxseed oil reaches these temperatures, harmful substances may develop, including acrylamide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and N-nitroso compounds. This means that flaxseed oil should only be used in raw dishes, or added to cooked food immediately before serving.2
In general, we recommend avoiding high heat when cooking vegetables. Steam vegetables gently or eat them raw. If you follow a raw food diet, you can completely avoid consuming harmful trans fats and Maillard molecules (you can read more about the topic in this book review).
To make vegan “cheese sauce,” puree 25 g soaked cashews, 190 g soft-cooked potatoes, 55 g carrots, 1 clove of garlic, 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes, 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil, 2.5 tablespoons water, 1.5 tablespoon lemon juice, 0.5 tablespoon sea salt, and 0.5 tablespoons white wine vinegar in a blender until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add some more water. Season the vegan “cheese sauce” with chili powder or chili flakes to taste. This “cheese sauce” makes a great dip to eat with raw vegetables, crackers, and tortilla chips. You can find the complete recipe HERE.
Organic flaxseed oil is becoming increasingly popular in major supermarket chains and may be available at Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia). You can also buy flaxseed oil at health food stores, organic stores, and online.
Cold-pressed flaxseed oil is made through gentle mechanical pressing without applying external heat.3,4
In industrial production, flaxseed oil is obtained through hot pressing and solvent extraction. During the subsequent refining process, undesirable by-products are removed from the oil, resulting in an odorless, neutral-flavored oil.5
Flaxseed oil is very sensitive to light. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in the oil oxidize after a short time and cause the oil to taste bitter. This can be because of exposure to oxygen, light, or moisture.
Once opened, flaxseed oil should be stored in a cool, dark place. Flaxseed oil can even turn bitter after being stored in the refrigerator (at 4 °C / 39.2 °F) for a few days.1 It therefore makes more sense to buy small bottles and use them quickly (with four weeks).6 Another option is to buy larger bottles of the oil and distribute it between smaller bottles that have a good seal.
Our tip: If the oil isn’t going to be used for several days, it can be stored in the freezer and defrosted in the refrigerator when needed. Flaxseed oil returns to its liquid form between –16 to –20 °C (3.2 to –4 °F). The oil doesn’t expand when frozen, so there is no danger of the bottle cracking in the freezer. When stored in this solid form, it stays fresh longer and keeps for up to 3 to 4 months.6
Flaxseed oil has a unique ratio of fatty acids: it contains almost 90 % unsaturated fatty acids and just 9 % saturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, ALA) account for 45 to 71 % of these fatty acids, while oleic acid accounts for 17 to 23 %, and omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid, LA) account for 12 to 24 %. Flaxseed oil is considered the best food source for omega-3 fatty acids (apart from perilla oil, which is used in Korean cuisine). The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (LA:ALA) is 1:4, which is a particularly healthy ratio.7,8 One tablespoon of flaxseed oil provides 7.3 g of omega-3 fatty acids, which is equivalent to several times the recommended daily intake for an average woman (2000 calories).6,8 In comparison, other oils contain the following ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids: canola oil 2:1; camelina oil 2:1 or 3:1 (sources vary); hemp oil 4:1; and walnut oil 5:1. Some oils contain extremely high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and are therefore rich in saturated fatty acids. On this basis, they should be avoided. These oils include sunflower oil, peanut oil, grape-seed oil, safflower oil, corn oil, palm oil, and coconut oil.8
If you want to follow a diet with a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, in the long term, you should turn to seeds and nuts rather than oil for nutrition. Oils and fats should always be consumed in moderation. A variety of seeds and nuts can help you achieve a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, including flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. Some prominent doctors in the United States, especially cardiologists, strongly believe that we should try to eat an oil-free diet.
Does flaxseed oil contain prussic acid? Flaxseed contains cyanogenic glycosides, which through enzymatic conversion form prussic acid. However, cyanogenic glycosides are water-soluble, meaning that they remain in the press cake that the oil is pressed from. This means that flaxseed oil is largely free of cyanogenic glycosides and therefore prussic acids salts (cyanide). An Australian and New Zealand study have confirmed this.24,25 A health risk from prussic acid by consuming flaxseed oil wa able to be ruled out in all age groups.9,10
You can find detailed nutritional information in the tables below the text.
Why is flaxseed oil so healthy? Well, no oil is actually healthy because oil is an unnatural concentration of fat. A natural substitute for flaxseed oil would be flaxseed, which also contains a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are an important element of all cell membranes and ensure the elasticity of cells and vessels. High concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids are found in the brain, nerve cells, and the retina.
Can flaxseed oil lower cholesterol? Neurotransmitters are formed from fatty acids, and have a positive effect on blood flow as well as for cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are effective in preventing cardiovascular diseases as well as rheumatism (chronic polyarthritis), inflammatory bowel diseases, and neurodermatitis. However, in nutritional medicine, taking fish oil to prevent coronary heart disease remains controversial.11,12
The body needs omega-3 fatty acids to produce eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and it needs omega-6 fatty acids to produce arachidonic acid (AA). These substances are used to form eicosanoids, which perform hormone-like functions.
Is flaxseed oil anti-inflammatory? While eicosanoids made from eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid have antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator, and vasodilator effects, eicosanoids from arachidonic acid actually produce the opposite effects.11,13
The formation of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid is in competition with the formation of arachidonic acid since the same enzymes are responsible for the production of both types of acids. This is why not only the amount but also the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids you consume is extremely important. A maximum ratio of 5:1 (omega-6 to omega-3) is considered desirable. A typical Western diet averages about 8 to 15:1.7,11,13
Omega-3 fatty acids convert to eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid at a rate of between 0.3 and 8 % for men and between 9 and 21 % for women. However, a high consumption of omega-6 fatty acids significantly reduces this conversion rate. You should avoid foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, such as grape seed oil (58–78 %), thistle oil (55–81 %), sunflower oil, and peanut oil. Fats from animals and animal products are even worse because they also directly contain high levels of arachidonic acid.
Some nutritionists recommend taking eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid with food.13,14
However, studies have shown that vegans convert a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids into eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid when their intake of omega-6 fatty acids is low.14 Data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study suggests that the body presumably builds up more eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid when the intake of these acids through food is low.7
Researchers have shown that flaxseed oil significantly improves the supply of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in the body. Taking two tablespoons of flaxseed oil a day was shown to lower inflammation parameters.11 Of course, using flaxseed instead of flaxseed oil for the study would have given better results, but this wasn’t possible because the study was funded by the oil industry. It is unlikely that a flaxseed study would be financed. There is scientific evidence that you can enrich your intake of docosahexaenoic acid solely through consuming a plant-based diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in other polyunsaturated fatty acids.7
What is the healthiest oil that you can eat? The answer to this question depends on the amount of oil used, how you use it, and the ratio of fatty acids in your diet. We have already mentioned the main vegetable oils and fats that should be avoided above. Bear in mind that it will always be better to get your fatty acids directly from the food itself rather than its oil; consider consuming nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados (for more information, see our article on canola oil).
Is flaxseed oil a superfood? In the following section, we will outline the dangers associated with consuming an excessive amount of omega-3 fatty acids. As Paracelsus once said, All things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.
Metabolites that damage cells may form when polyunsaturated fatty acids oxidize. For this reason, make sure that you are consuming a sufficient amount of antioxidants, for example, vitamin E and vitamin C. However, if your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, then your body is being supplied with a sufficient amount of antioxidants.
An excess consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with an increased risk of lipid peroxidation. It can also cause the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein). The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) warns of health risks associated with a daily intake of more than 700 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Consuming more than 0.7 g eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid per day can increase cholesterol levels, while consuming 1.5 g per day may cause a bleeding susceptibility and weaken the immune system, especially for older people.
Depending on overall diet, female metabolism can produce up to 1 g of long-chain omgea-3 fatty acids from one tablespoon of flaxseed oil (7.3 g omega-3 fatty acids). The average conversion of omega-3 fatty acids to eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid is 15 % for women but is significantly lower for men.11,13,15
In 2012, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reexamined the health effects of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The EFSA considers consuming 500 mg eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid per day to be safe, but did not advise an upper safety limit.
A daily dosage of 250 mg is considered sufficient to help prevent cardiovascular disease and maintain a healthy heart.11
Can flaxseed oil be harmful to your health? A survey by the popular German health magazine Apotheken Umschau points out that flaxseed oil increases the risk of premature birth. There is evidence to suggest that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should use flaxseed with caution, as the seeds could affect the fertility of their children. However, the maximum recommended daily intake of 15 g of flaxseed does not seem to be harmful to pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers. It is difficult to judge to what extend these findings apply to flaxseed oil.16,17 You can read more about why individuals should be careful and avoid consuming more than 15 g flaxseed per day in our article on flaxseed.
Flax was the medicinal plant of the year in 2005 and flaxseed oil is used for pharmaceutical purposes. Flaxseed oil can be used as a remedy for menstrual cramps, atherosclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, and as a food supplement to treat eczema (e.g., in the form of capsules).1,18
Is flaxseed oil good for your skin? Cosmetics containing flaxseed oil are said to regenerate and revitalize the skin. However, it has not been proven that the skin absorbs the polyunsaturated fatty acids. Flaxseed oil soap with clove oil and lemon grass is said to cleanse and refresh the skin.1
Common flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) originates from Linum bienne, a biennial wild flax plant native to the Mediterranean region. This species was cultivated in Mesopotamia as early as 7500 BCE.19 According to Wikipedia, common flax probably originated in Mesopotamia or Egypt.19 Flaxseed grows in temperate and subtropical regions of both hemispheres.20
Flaxseed is one of the five founder crops of agriculture, alongside barley, wheat, lentils, and peas. It was first cultivated in Eurasia during the Neolithic period (11 500 BC). The cultivation of flaxseed oil should be considered a significant nutritional achievement, thanks to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids. Apart from hemp and poppy, flax is one of the only oilseed plants that originated in Europe.1
Flaxseed oil was widely popular in Central Europe during the twentienth century. Family-run oil mills pressed regionally grown flaxseed into oil. In the German town Hoyerswerda, an oil mill was established in 1924 and has been producing Lusatian flaxseed oil ever since. Today, flaxseed oil has gained in popularity because of its high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Fresh flaxseed oil tends to be pressed in small oil mills using domestically grown flaxseed.1,21
The main cultivation areas for flax are North America and Canada. Between 1996 and 2005, the annual harvest fluctuated considerably between 517'000 and 1'082'000 tons of flaxseed. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the 2006 global harvest was 2'569'793 tons.11
Cold-pressed flaxseed oil is obtained by running the flaxseed through a screw press to extract the oil. A roller is used to apply a little pressure to the seeds and feed them through a pressing cylinder. During cold pressing, the oil reaches temperatures of max. 40 °C (104 °F). Any remaining solids are then removed.1
As oxygen used during the cold-pressing process causes the flaxseed oil to oxidize rapidly, several oxygen-free pressing methods have been developed that are intended to prevent oxidation. This is achieved by pressing the flaxseeds in a protected atmosphere of pure nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which prevents oxygen from coming into contact with the flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is also protected from light during the production process. As a result of these additional precautionary steps, flaxseed oil is considered a high quality oil and often costs more than other oils.1
Flax plants produce many flowers; however, these flowers contain little pollen and nectar, and as such flax plants are not an ideal source of nectar.22
Flaxseed oil is an edible vegetable oil made from flaxseed. In addition to actual flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum), other types of flaxseed from the Linum (flax) genus are also used to make oil.1
According to the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), crude flaxseed oil must have certain properties with regards to acidity, sediment, and the amount of phosphoric acid it contains. Crude flaxseed oil is used for a variety of technical and industrial purposes.1,23
Camelina oil is made from the seeds of camelina (Camelina sativa) and should not be confused with flaxseed oil. Camelina oil is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, containing 33–41 % ALA.15
Flaxseed oil is also known as linseed oil, crude linseed oil, and flax oil.
Crude flaxseed oil is used in a variety of technical and industrial contexts, including for wood finishes, paints, coatings, and other industrial supplies. It is also used to make fabric and various cosmetic products. Some natural soaps also contain flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil soap with clove oil and lemon grass is said to cleanse and refresh your skin. Pressing flaxseed into oil produces flaxseed meal, a by-product of the pressing process. This meal is sold as a high-quality animal feed. Flaxseed oil is very adhesive because of its high levels of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. This makes it an effective binder for pigments in paint production.