Flax rides rising popularity of gluten-free, vegan for ‘resurgence’ in food

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Flax rides popularity of gluten-free, vegan for ‘resurgence’ in food

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Flavor

Once considered primarily as a supplement for fiber and omega-3s, flax increasingly is appearing in more packaged foods with marketing claims extolling its health benefits and unique cooking properties.

At SOHO Expo in Florida this month, flax was the star ingredient in a variety of foods, suggesting it may be on the upswing after years of languishing in the supplement aisle or in the shadow of chia seeds.

“Flax has been around for years, but what you don’t see is it in foods as much,”​ said Philip Faia, East Coast sales manager for Flax4Life.

He explained that “people will buy it to put in their smoothies or salads, but what they don’t understand is … if it is not ground, you don’t really receive the nutritional benefit because as seeds, like corn, they go right through you. So, you need to grind it to get the whole nutritional benefit.”

Which is where finished foods, like those made by Flax4Life, come in, he said.

“In our products, ground flax is our flour,”​ which means that the baked goods have a “ton of omega-3s that come out of the seeds”​ to deliver a substantial dose of healthy fat, fiber and protein that is easily digested.

More specifically, Flax4Life’s new grab-and-go 3.5 ounce single-serve muffins that recently launched and were showcased at SOHO offer 10 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein.

“If you eat one of those in the morning it is like a meal replacement and will keep you full well into the afternoon,”​ Faia said.

The satiety flax offers, in addition to its health benefits, is one of the major reasons that consumers are seeking products made with it, he added.

On the manufacturing side, he said, the omega-3s in the ground flax help keep baked goods moist -- helping to extend their shelf life while preserving a clean label.

This moisture also helps offset the dryness associated with many gluten-free foods, like those Flax4Life sells, Faia said.

Gluten-free fuels flax

Part of the “resurgence”​ of flax can be tied to the rise of the gluten-free movement, said Donn Kelly, president of the Doctor in the Kitchen, which makes Flackers -- gluten-free, organic flax seed crackers.

He explained that the gluten-free movement helped open American’s minds to a wider variety of nuts and seeds to be used instead of wheat, and in doing so gave flax a leg-up.

At SOHO, Kelly was showcasing Flackers’ newest flavor -- sea salt -- as well as new packaging.

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The company recently switched from a box to reclosable bags for “efficiency”​ and to help the snack stand out better on the cracker shelf, Kelly said.

Vegan paves path for flax

Another macro-trend driving consumer interest in flax is the rising popularity of a vegan diet, Kelly said. He noted that flax offers a plant-based alternative to fish as a source for omega-3s.

Connie Osstifin of Barlean’s agreed that consumers wanting an alternative source of omega-3s from fish is helping elevate flax’s profile.

“With fish oil as a source for omega-3s, many people are worried about where the fish comes from,”​ she said. “At Barlean’s we use all clean fish, but people still worry about it. With flax, they don’t have to. It’s organic, natural and safe.”

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Barlean’s recently began offering a version of its flavored oils, marketed as swirls, made with flax for those consumers who wanted a fish alternative, Osstifin said.

It also recently launched flax-based Seed Blends, which combine in a resealable pouch flax with on-trend flavors, superfruits and seeds, including chia, coconut, pumpkin and various berries.

Two months ago, it also launched a coconut oil with flax that uses natural flavors to replicate butter, she said.

As illustrated by these, as well as the products offered by the Doctor in the Kitchen and Flax4Life, flax has significant potential in a wide range of foods and beverages and, as Kelly noted, is “on the incline again.”

Related topics: Markets, Suppliers, Botanicals

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