When it comes to superfoods that actually live up to the hype, it’s harder to find a better, more versatile example than flaxseed.
Not only are these little seeds packed with heart-healthy omega-3s, but they are also an antioxidant powerhouse containing 800 times more lignans than your typical fruit or veggie. Lignans are important in fighting inflammation and in reducing your risk for certain cancers. And on top of everything else, flaxseeds are loaded with nutrients, fiber, and protein.
So, if you don’t have a bag full of these little seeds in your house right now, it is definitely worth it to go pick some up. But, once you do, you’ll want to make sure you are taking steps to keep all those important nutrients intact and preventing your seeds from spoiling. Keep reading to find out if flaxseeds go bad and what you can do to extend the shelf life of this amazing superfood.
Do Flaxseeds Go Bad?
If you haven’t guessed already, flaxseeds DO go bad. In fact, any food that contains a lot of healthy, good-for-your-heart fats is at an increased risk for spoilage compared to your typical dry grain, seed, or oil. That’s because the same structure that makes omegas so useful to cells in the body also sets these molecules up to degrade quickly.
When exposed to oxygen and light, the highly reactive double bonds that create the molecule’s structure begin to oxidize and produce byproducts like aldehydes and lipid peroxides. Not only does this process reduce the health benefits of your flaxseed, but some of these byproducts can actually be harmful to your health and reduce the nutrient profile of the seed itself.
Still, it is unlikely you would become sick, except for possibly some minor stomach upset, from eating rancid flaxseeds. But for most people, the point of including these high-priced seeds in their diet is for the health benefits they provide not for the thrill of throwing money away on unhealthy byproducts.
If you think your flaxseed might be bad, try giving it a sniff or tasting a small dab. Unspoiled flaxseed typically has a nice nutty flavor and smell while rotten seeds will smell fishy and have a more bitter taste.
Before you buy your next bag of flaxseeds, you’ll want to make sure you know how to protect these delicate omega-filled seeds from degrading so you can avoid these “spoilage” taste tests in the future.
How Long Does Flaxseed Last?
The printed-on expiration date for most whole flaxseed you’ll find at the store is between one and two years from the date of packaging. For meals, it tends to be less than a year. With proper storage, it is possible to extend the life of your flaxseed well past these dates.
However, it is also important to remember that how the flax was stored prior to you buying it will play a part in if it will actually last until that stated expiration. Since most flaxseed packages aren’t completely airtight and many are translucent, it’s even possible to buy flaxseed that has already started to turn, even if the expiration date is a ways off.
To reduce the odds of this, it is best to purchase your flaxseed from grocers that store it and other high-omega seeds in the refrigerator section rather than on the shelf. And, whether refrigerated or not, always opt for the brand that packages their seeds in an opaque bag rather than a clear one.
How to Store Flaxseed to Prolong Its Shelf Life
Once you have your precious flaxseeds home, you’ll want to take some additional steps to prolong their shelf life and avoid spoilage, especially once you have opened the package. (And if you are suddenly worried that you may be storing all your food in the wrong place, here is a nifty food storage chart that can help you out.)
In the Pantry
It is perfectly ok to store whole flaxweed in the pantry if the package has not been opened (and is relatively airtight). This is especially true if the product you bought was previously stored on the shelf. While it is likely to undergo some spoilage sitting in a room temperature cupboard, an unopened, opaque package will be protected enough from light and oxygen that it should last at least up to the expiration date.
The one exception to this rule would be if the bag you bought was previously stored in the fridge.
Omega fatty acids are more stable at lower temperatures no matter what. But shifts between cooler and warmer temps can actually speed the degradation process beyond what you would see if seeds were always kept at a stable, higher temp. So if your seeds were cold when you bought them, definitely keep them that way.
In the Fridge
The fridge is the optimal place to store your flaxseeds even when the package is unopened. And when they are opened, the fridge is the only place you should store them. The cooler temps and protection from light will help ward off spoilage. In fact, whole flaxseed left in the fridge will likely stay good for up to a year past the printed-on expiration date.
Flaxseed meal can also be stored in the fridge if you plan to use it up within a week.
In the Freezer
Whole flaxseed stored in the freezer will last a touch longer than flaxseed in the fridge. But, make sure you transfer only the amount you need straight to your smoothy, oatmeal, or recipe quickly, as prolonged thawing will cause the omegas to break down rapidly. And never move frozen flaxseed stores out of the freezer and into the fridge or pantry.
Because flaxseed meal has been processed down into smaller pieces, it is at a far greater risk for spoiling than whole seeds. These pulverized pieces have more surface area exposed to light and oxygen and no longer have the benefit of being protected by an intact shell.
For this reason, flaxseed meal should always be stored in the freezer unless you plan to use it quickly (in which case, the fridge is fine). Just as with whole seeds, avoid allowing flaxseed meal to thaw before putting it to use and never transfer your stores between the freezer and fridge or cupboard.
Since flaxseed meal breaks down so quickly under the wrong conditions, it is advisable to only purchase whole seeds and grind them yourself at home. Ground seeds stored in the freezer should last about two months past the original expiration date.
How to Use Flaxseed
Now that you have your flaxseed purchased and properly stored for maximum health benefits, it’s time to put it to use! Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy this powerful little seed.
- Smoothies – Add a tablespoon or two to your next smoothy for an omega boost that will provide a little extra energy throughout your day.
- Oatmeal – Mixing a tablespoon of ground or whole flaxseed with your favorite oatmeal will add a nice nutty flavor and some powerful health benefits.
- Flaxseed Eggs – Replacing normal eggs with heart-healthy and earth-friendly flax eggs is a great way to reduce cholesterol and increase fiber in your baking recipes.
- Homemade Crackers – Storebought crackers are loaded with saturated and even, sometimes, trans fats, so opting to make your own at home is a great way to cut the calories and do your heart a favor. And, of course, adding some heart-happy flaxseeds to the mix is always a good idea. We recommend giving these simple flaxseed crackers or these rustic rosemary herb crackers a try.
However you choose to incorporate flaxseed into your diet, making sure you store your seeds properly will help you get your mouth around those super-healthy omegas and nutrients that they are so famous for.
Feature photo: ©gorchittza2012/Bigstock