A post that’s not about chemicals!

Well, not about leavening chemicals, anyway. Reader Rachel writes:

I have been trying to eat healthier, so I have been adding ground flax seeds to my morning oatmeal etc. I did a little research and learned that flax seeds can be substituted for eggs in some recipes. I have noticed that the flax seeds cause the liquid in the oatmeal to gelatinize a little. Do you have any idea how flax seeds work as an egg substitute and can they be used in anything or maybe only just recipes that need to be thickened by eggs?

Flax seeds are interesting in that about a third of the fiber they contain occurs as a polysaccharide goo that’s right under their seed coats. Crush the seeds and immerse them in a watery liquid and the goo disperses, causing that gelation-like effect you describe. In baked goods that goo (technically a gum, I think) works a lot like xanthan gum, helping to thicken, stabilize emulsions, trap and hold gas bubbles, etc..

Make a flax seed “egg” by combing two tablespoons of finely ground flax seeds with three tablespoons of water. Stir and allow to sit for a few minutes until the mixture thickens. You can use this flax “egg” in any recipe that calls for a chicken egg. Except for maybe an omelette…yechhh.

14 thoughts on “A post that’s not about chemicals!”

  1. Thanks for posting my question, that was very prompt! This is a pretty nifty application for flax seeds, I’m excited to test this out in a few recipes. 🙂

  2. That is FASCINATING, I had no idea! I just started eating flax seed, too, though so far only in granola. Maybe I’ll try this the next time I bake cookies or cake.

  3. Raw food devotees make crackers with flax seeds and other nuts and seeds. Mix with water, spread in a thin layer, dry in a dehydrator. Clothilde, at the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, praised the results — and she’s NOT a raw food devotee.

    1. Neither am I…and frankly I’m slightly disturbed at the direction these comments are taking! 😉

  4. Thanks as always for the fascniating posts. I’m interested to see that Joe’s flax seed ‘egg’ contains a different proportion of gound flax seeds to water than the one I’m used to. Joe’s suggestion is 2tbsp ground flax seed to 3tbsp water; other substitution guides (see here [with picture] and here) have 1tbsp flax to 3tbsp water but I wonder if it really makes much difference… It’s worth noting for those who haven’t tried it that flax seeds give baked goods a distinct nutty(ish) taste, so necessarily great for everything. For banana bread (not Joe’s recipe) I found it’s not too noticeable but it is there in the background.

  5. I noticed a far more extreme version of this happen with Chia seeds – just leaving them to stand in water for a little while made a gel, without even grinding them!

  6. My wife and I are looking for a vegetable-based gelatin substitute (not that we’re necessarily against animal-derived gelatins — as I write this, I have two stockpots of full of veal bones on my stove). We have tried agar agar, but it turns out my wife is allergic. And not to continue the slightly disturbing track of the comments, but I know from my wife’s hair-gel-making experiments just how gelatinous flax seeds in water can become. Do you think they’re powerful enough to be a gelatin substitute? As one commenter mentioned, we’d have to take the nutty flavor into account, but if I can make a decent flax seed panna cotta I can work with that.

    1. Hi Alan! I’m doubtful that flax will do a molded dessert like a panna cotta. I’d be inclined to try kuzu instead, since I’m told it holds up nearly as well as gelatin. Have a look around the internet and see what you think. It might be the magic ingredient you’re after. – J

      1. Thanks for the suggestion, Joe. We recently noticed kuzu at a couple of our local organic food shops and were curious about it. After some quick research I found out that it used to make mochi, which have never provoked my wife’s allergies, so I think you might be right that it is the magic ingredient I’m looking for. I will most definitely give it a try!

  7. I experimented with a vegan diet for a few years and was dying for decent dessert. I found that flax worked wonderfully… especially in muffins and things that would compliment the nutty flavor flax can sometimes add. Great post!

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