How flax fits in

by Jeff Gelski
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Flaxseed-based ingredients have proven their worth in food applications designed for past and present marketing trends. Future opportunity for flax inclusion may be in another potential growth category: foods that offer cosmetic benefits.

Boasting fiber content of about 28%, flaxseed has found its way into low-carbohydrate formulations, popular briefly earlier in the decade.

Turning to a current trend, U.S. sales of products with an omega-3 fatty acid presence promoted on the label reached $869,707,683 for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 3, 2007, up from $812,976,458 in the previous 52 weeks, according to The Nielsen Co. Sales covered food, drug and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart.

Alpha-linolenic acid, a kind of omega-3 fatty acid, makes up 57% of flaxseed oil content. Food manufacturers often use flax as the source of omega-3 fatty acid incorporation into their products, but they tend to promote the omega-3 content on the front packaging and list flax as an ingredient, said Kelley Fitzpatrick, director of health and nutrition for Flax Canada 2015.

"Consumers do have awareness of flax, but they just don’t associate it with anything in particular," she said.

Flax Canada 2015 was launched in 2004 with funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Owned by the Flax Council of Canada, Winnipeg, Man., Flax Canada 2015 has a goal of increasing the farm gate value of flax produced in Canada to $1.5 billion by 2015. Promoting consumer awareness of flax and investing in nutritional research on flax are two ways it hopes to reach that goal.

Seeking health claims

Nutritional research into flaxseed could pave the way for qualified health claims, Ms. Fitzpatrick said. Food companies increasingly are asking if an ingredient comes with any qualified health claims, she said.

A Food and Drug Administration health claim concerning fish oil pertains to its two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The ALA found in flaxseed is not included in the health claim. Pizzey’s Nutritionals, a flaxseed ingredient supplier based in Angusville, Man., does include all three kinds of omega-3 fatty acids in its MeadowPure 03 Ultra ingredient.

Flaxseed nutrition research has focused on diabetes and heart health, Ms. Fitzpatrick said. Among forms of flaxseed, research findings have been positive for milled flaxseed because of its high content of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, which are antioxidants. Flaxseed lignans are effective in lowering the onset of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, according to Pizzey’s Nutritionals. But consumer awareness of lignans in flaxseed is low, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

Awareness of heart health benefits received a boost this month when Shape Foods Inc., Brandon, Minn., introduced Heart Shape Flax Oil and Flax Oil blends. The blends combine flaxseed oil, olive oil and sunflowerseed oil.

Before launching the oils, Shape Foods contracted Frost & Sullivan to conduct consumer research in December 2006. It involved an on-line survey of 1,000 participants in Canada and the United States. The majority of the respondents said a product claim of containing omega-3 fatty acids is very or fairly meaningful and almost one-third said it would be a very great advantage.

Flaxseed as feed

Flaxseed also may provide health benefits when used as feed for animals. Feeding it to chickens increases the omega-3 fatty acid content in their eggs. The Flax Council of Canada is providing information to eggs producers in Mexico about how to include flax in rations of laying hens to produce omega-3 fatty acid eggs. In Europe, flaxseed is used in animal feeding more often than it is used in North America, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

Flaxseed is used in the equine industry and is thought to provide benefits in the mane of horses. Later this year Flax Canada 2015 plans to start research on how flax ingredients, when used in human food such as nutritional bars, may provide cosmetic benefits, such as for skin and hair. Studies will focus on water hydration properties of the skin. Researchers want to investigate how omega-3 fatty acids and lignans may prevent oxidation and thus aging skin, Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

Processing tips for bread, cereal and bars

Fresh bread ranks as a top-seller for products that include flax. Sales of fresh bread promoting flax or hemp seed on the label surpassed $25 million for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 3, 2007, at U.S. food, drug and mass merchandisers not including Wal-Mart, according to The Nielsen Co., New York. Granola and yogurt bars came in with sales of more than $20 million while ready-to-eat cereal had sales of more than $15 million.

Certain processing techniques apply when incorporating flax into each of these three categories:

Fresh bread

"Effect of Flaxseed Particle Size on Bread Quality" was the title of a presentation given March 28 in Fargo, N.D., at the 62nd Flax Institute of the United States. Clifford Hall, an assistant professor in cereal science at North Dakota State University, gave the presentation.

He said for baking applications he recommends using flaxseed particles in 20-mesh or 30-mesh size.

"More specifically, the baker should ask for the flaxseed that has been retained on the 30-mesh sieve, for example," Mr. Hall said.

Pizzey’s Nutritionals, a flaxseed ingredient supplier based in Angusville, Man., offers SelectGrad whole-milled flaxseed in two mesh sizes: 14-mesh regular and 20-mesh ultra-fine.

For another processing tip, Mr. Hall said flaxseed will affect the water absorption of the flour in bread. Bakers will need to adjust moisture accordingly.

When whole, ground flaxseed is used at flour basis levels greater than 8%, additional vital wheat gluten may be needed to strengthen the dough, according to Enreco, Inc., a flaxseed ingredient supplier based in Newton, Wis.

Mr. Hall said 15% appears to be the maximum level of ground flaxseed that may be used in flour in bread formulation while still retaining dough functionality and sensory acceptance.

Granola and yogurt bars

Whole, ground flaxseed may contribute whole grain flavor, chewy texture and whole grain appearance when incorporated into nutrition bars, according to Enreco. Flaxseed also may help keep a nutrition bar from drying out.

Pizzey’s Milling promotes its SelectGrad for use in cereal bars and its FortiGrad for use in nutrition bars. Meadowpure 03 Ultra may be used in all cereal-based products.

 

R.-T.-E. cereal

Flaxseed’s high content of polyunsaturated oils renders it susceptible to oxidation, according to Enreco.

"It is best to extrude and otherwise process flaxseed-containing formulations under low-shear conditions or to add flaxseed to a breakfast cereal in the form of an inclusion," Enreco said.

Enreco launched its Flax-It flaxseed nuggets last year after the company noticed consumers liked to sprinkle Enreco’s premium stabilized whole-milled flaxseed onto cereals, yogurts or salads.

 

Flax or hemp seed product sales

52 weeks ended

Nov. 3, 2007

Nov. 4, 2006

Nov. 5, 2005

Fresh bread

$25,285,003

$13,437,267

$9,969,263

Granola and yogurt bars

$20,177,866

$12,227,131

$3,879,227

Ready-to-eat cereals

$15,214,298

$13,190,736

$10,150,034

Total U.S. sales of products with flax or hemp seed on the labels in food, drug and mass merchandiser stores, excluding Wal-Mart.

Source: The Nielsen Co.

 

Survey on flaxseed, omega-3 fatty acids

Reasons for consuming foods fortified with omega-3 fatty acids:

Overall wellness 75%

Heart health 75%

Skin health 36%

Diabetes 16%

Upon recommendation 15%

Other reasons 6%

 

Reasons for consuming flaxseed:

Overall wellness 75%

Heart health 61%

Skin health 27%

Upon recommendation 26%

Diabetes 9%

Other reasons 9%

 

Products purchased with flaxseed:

Milled flax in package 43%

Cereal/nutrition/sports bar 27%

Other 27%

Bakery and pasta 19%

Dairy 8%

Beverages 6%

Sauces 2%

 

Source: Internet survey with 1,199 U.S. respondents conducted in 2007 through Zoomerang technology from MarketTools, Inc. and sponsored by Flax Canada 2015

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, April 15, 2008, starting on Page 33. Click
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