Linseed is the seed from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum), a member of the Linaceae family. The thin yellow or brown seed is one of the oldest cultivated crops and originates from the Mediterranean and Western Asia.
The seeds are mainly grown in regions with lower winter temperatures and processed for their nutritional value and high content of fibre and oil. Today Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Poland and Argentina are some of the largest global producers of linseed.
Cultivation and Harvesting
Linseed is allowed to mature until the seed capsules are yellow and just starting to split; it is then harvested in various ways. A combine harvester or a similar machine may either cut only the heads of the plants, or the whole plant. These are then dried to extract the seed.
The number of weeds in the straw affects its marketability, and this, coupled with market prices, determines whether the farmer chooses to harvest the flax straw. If the flax straw is not harvested it is typically burned as it can take longer than a season to decompose.
The main market for human consumption of linseed can be found within the bakery and health food segments where whole or broken seeds are used as a food ingredient as well as direct consumption. Linseed’s popularity has increased in recent years as part of the healthy foods trend.
Crushing the linseed produces both linseed oil and the fibre-rich linseed meal as by-product which is mostly used as animal feed.
The brown and yellow (golden) seeds are different types but closely related in terms of oil content, with the brown seeds containing more alpha-linolenic fatty acids (59%) compared to the yellow seeds (51%). The nutritional value of the brown linseed can therefore be considered slightly higher. The yellow linseeds are preferred for cooking purposes, as they blend better with various dishes
One study of research published between 1990 and 2008 showed that consuming linseeds or their derivatives may reduce total and LDL-cholesterol in the blood, with greater benefits in women and those with high cholesterol. The use of linseed as a nutritional and functional ingredient opens up opportunities in the niche market for health food products. The omega-3 fatty acid content of linseed as well as its dietary fibres are regarded as beneficial to human health and gain increasing popularity.