Canadian flax quality shows long term consistency and improvement

Canadian flaxseed is valued for its consistent high quality. This quality is measured as high oil content, high iodine value and low moisture, admixture and free fatty acids. Measurements over the past 70 years show that oil content has increased from an average of 42.0% (dry basis) in the period 1937 to 1960 to over 44.0% (dry basis) in the period 1995 to 2005. Similarly, iodine value has increased from an average of 187 units to an average of 193 units.

However, year-to-year variations in oil content and iodine value can be associated with changes in weather between different growing seasons. The GRL's long-term harvest survey results have shown that hot, dry growing conditions tend to produce a flaxseed crop with lower oil contents and iodine values, but higher protein contents. For example, extreme drought and heat stress in 1971, 1989, and in 2003 resulted in decreased oil contents and iodine values for those crop years. In contrast, the 2004 season was among the coolest reported in over 100 years, resulting in a record high iodine value of 201 units. In 2005, the month of June 2005 is tied with June 1953 for the wettest month on record for Saskatchewan in the last 90 years, contributing to a record high western Canada flaxseed oil content of 46.2% in the 2005 survey samples. The decreased oil contents and iodine values seen in the 2006 survey are a result of the drier and warmer than normal growing conditions in southern portions of the flaxseed growing area.

Grade                               Oil content                          Protein content

No. 1 Canada                    44.0                                     23.5

No. 2 Canada                    43.0                                     22.7
No. 3 Canada                    41.3                                     22.4

** Daun, J.K. Oilseeds Processing Chapter D11 in Grains and Oilseeds, Handling, Marketing, Processing, Vol 11. Canadian International Grains Institute, Winnipeg, Fourth Edition, 1993. p. 891.

Canada's visual grading system also helps to ensure uniform quality of flaxseed. Flaxseed is graded based on the damage (mainly broken seeds) and admixture, first at receipt at the country elevator and again on entering and leaving terminal elevators. This allows low quality seed to be segregated resulting in a more uniform export product. Oil and protein content are lower in lower quality flaxseed.

Canadian climate promotes high oil and iodine value with low moisture and free fatty acid (FFA)

Flaxseed in Western Canada is planted in May or early June and harvested in September or October. This period corresponds to the Canadian summer and early fall seasons. High oil content and iodine value in flaxseed are influenced by lower growing temperatures and by longer photoperiod***. The relatively long day length at Western Canada's high latitudes (49N to 53N) coupled with relatively cool summer temperatures (17 for summer) combine to give Canadian flaxseed a good combination of oil and iodine value.
In comparison, flaxseed grown in the Northern United States is grown between 42N and 49N under somewhat warmer temperatures (20C) while flaxseed in Argentina is grown between 32S and 38S with a mean temperature of (23.6C).
In addition, Canadian flaxseed is harvested in the fall, traditionally a dry period in the Canadian prairies. The seed usually requires no drying and is binned with moisture contents usually about 8% and this value is also typical for exported moisture contents. The low moisture at harvest also means that top grade Canadian flaxseed typically has low levels of free fatty acids, usually about 0.6% expressed as % of the oil.

*** Sosulski, F.W. and Gore, R.F. The Effect of Photoperiod and Temperature on the Characteristics of Flaxseed Oil. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 44:382

More flax is grown in Canada than anywhere else, most of it in Saskatchewan. Flax is used as an ingredient in baked foods, snacks and animal feeds.

D.R. DeClercq
Oilseed Chemist, Grain Research Laboratory
Revised April 3, 2007

From the Flax Council of Canada:

Brown Flax Seeds, or Golden?

Which colour of flax seed should you buy? Some ads suggest golden flax seeds are more nutritious than brown ones, but the brown seeds taste and look good. Nutritional comparisons indicate you should be wary of over-exuberant claims from a particular U.S. supplier that golden flax is superior to brown flax.

On the North American prairies, thousands of acres of prime growing land produce flax plants with either brown or yellow flax seeds. In Canada, which is the world leader in flax production, almost all flax seeds produced are reddish brown. In the United States, and in South Dakota in particular, a golden-seed flax, called "Dakota Gold", is popular.

Is flax seed of one colour better for you than the other? A recent comparison of "Dakota Gold" flax with Canadian brown-seed flax shows golden and brown seeds are very closely matched in oil content (on a dry-matter basis). The analysis conducted on two "Dakota Gold" flax seed samples by the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) showed the golden seed contained between 43 and 44 per cent oil (see table below). This compared with the 44 per cent oil of Canadian brown flax seed found in the July 2001 CGC analysis. However, the brown seed surpassed the "Dakota Gold" in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic component of that oil. The July 2001 brown flax seed samples contained almost 59 per cent omega-3 fatty acid compared to about 51 per cent in the "Dakota Gold" samples. Thus, the evidence points to nutritional equality of brown and golden flax.

Superior oil quality and higher oil content have long been major features of Canadian flax seed, attributed to Canada's climate. These qualities have contributed largely to Canada's current position as the world
's leader in flax production and quality.


Comparison of Canadian Brown Flax Seed and "Dakota Gold"

Oil content**,                                                                    Brown flax seed*                        "Dakota Gold"
dry moisture basis                  

                                                                                           44%                                           43-44%

Alpha-linolenic fatty acid,                                                     59%                                           51%
% of total fatty acids

* July 2001
** based on petroleum ether FOSFA extraction
Source: Canadian Grain Commission, Grain Research Laboratory

Notes from FlaxAsia: 

The Canadian Grain Commission sums up the question of brown flax verses golden flax by saying that, "the evidence points to nutritional equality of brown and golden flax."

We concur, the evidence does point to nutritional equality - and in some cases a higher percentage of Omega 3 for brown Canadian Flaxseed. There's a simple reason for this - flaxseeds grown in Canada's cooler climate generally produce higher levels of Omega 3 Alpha Linolenic Acid. 

One reputable supplier of golden flax in the U.S. advertises their flaxseed this way; "Not all flax seed is created equal! Our stringent growing criteria produces the best hybrid golden flax seed. Our Golden Flax Seed was created, for its quality, by South Dakota & North Dakota State Universities. Our Flax Seed yields high levels of Omega 3 oil, Protein 10g and Fiber 11g. Also, Golden Flax Seed is not genetically modified."

This is true, golden flax is a hybrid flax that was created in the labratories of South Dakota and North Dakota Universities approximately 30 years ago. People sometimes mistake 'hybrid' and 'genetically modified' - they are not the same thing. A hybrid flaxseed is simply brought about by taking different flaxseeds and flax plant varieties and producing - through human manipulation - a new seed variety for the purpose of acquiring certain specifically desired genetic characteristics.

A problem seems to arise (for some) when certain suppliers of golden flaxseed make claims that golden flax is a 'designer flax' that was created specifically for 'human consumption' (as if humans didn't have flaxseeds to eat until the golden variety was introduced) and that it is somehow how 'superior' to brown flaxseed. These interesting ideas have led to some strange suppositions.

For example; this from the website of a golden flaxseed provider: "...Golden Flax Seed was developed for human consumption. Brown flax, can be eaten however, it is grown for the commercial Linseed Oil , paint, and solvents Industries." 

The implication here seems to be that brown flax 'can be eaten', but since it's grown for 'commercial Linseed Oil , paint, and solvents Industries', we're better off to eat the golden flaxseed. After all, the simple brown flaxseed was not created equal, it only came about through nature (or was directly created by God - depending on which way one leans), while the golden 'edible' flaxseed was created in a laboratory. Are we to commend God or nature for creating the magnificent flaxseed - but then fault them by saying they picked the 'wrong' color? Such assumptions lead to an obvious incongruity. For example: The flaxseed that was being recommended by Hippocrates was what color? And the flax that Charlemagne passed laws on related to its consumption - was what color? Exactly. Human consumption of brown flaxseed dates back to 9000BC. Human consumption of golden flaxseed dates back approximately three decades. Golden and brown flaxseed have very similar nutritional properties - but some people prefer the taste of brown, while others the golden variety. Is golden more visually appealing? Depends on who you talk to - it's subjective. Some like it brown, while others like the lighter golden color. By the way, the golden (looks yellow to some) usually comes with a higher price tag. With the nutritional value being the same (in some cases the brown flax from Canada having a higher percentage of Omega 3 ALA) and with other qualities being equal - consumers will have to judge for themselves whether or not the extra cost is justified. 

Another ad reads like this, "Our golden Flax seed is higher in Omega 3 oils than that of either brown or yellow flax seed." This bold claim is offered at face value without any source cited.

Here is one more example of an article slanted towards golden flaxseed and the not so subtle condescending putdown of the humble brown flaxseed:

"Golden flax seed has definitely taken over as the most prominent consumer flax seed. So widely consumed by humans it has put brown flax seed in a position to be thought of as only animal feed. Brown flax seed however is every bit as nutritious and safe for human consumption as golden flax seed. Both contain the same proteins, lignans, fatty acids and the same amount of fiber."

The last part of the above is true - both seeds are nutritious and safe for human consumption, and they do contain similar amounts of proteins, lignans, fatty acids and fiber. The brown is still - by far - the most widely sold and consumed and certainly isn't considered 'animal feed' by anyone with the least bit of insight into the matter.

Here are a few excerpts of what one reader (who didn't seem to take kindly to the golden and brown flax comparisons above) had to say in response:

"Flaxseed was created brown and has been brown for thousands of years. The idea that brown flax (its natural, normal color) is thought of as only 'animal feed' is patently ridiculous. The 'gold' flaxseed you refer to is a hybrid that came about in a laboratory about 20 years ago.  The Canada Flax Council (A recognized authority on Flaxseed) pointed out that tests showed that brown flaxseed from Canada had a higher Omega 3 oil content than 'gold' flaxseed."

The truth of the matter is that brown flaxseed is grown for human consumption (as well as for other uses) and is being consumed throughout the world and has been for a very long time (and will continue to be). And, a lot of people seem to prefer it in it's original brown form - while many others prefer it 'golden'. Which ever way it is preferred - and rather than dwelling on the falsehoods of those claiming a 'superior' flaxseed - our focus should be on getting flaxseed (brown or golden) into our diets in order to benefit from its amazing health properties.  ~ FlaxAsia
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