Flax and hemp seeds are both nutritious seeds that have recently become popular as superfoods. Because each seed has a lot of hype surrounding it, you may have some difficulty deciding between them. Is one better than the other? The answer to that question is the same as it is with many other things in life: it depends. To learn how to these seeds stack up against each other, read on for our SPICEography Showdown.
How are flax seeds and hemp seeds different?
The first big difference has to do with protein content. Both are good protein sources, but hemp seeds contain much more of it. You can get almost twice the protein from hemp that would be available in the same serving size of flax seeds. What flax seeds lack in protein content, they make up in fiber content. You will get more than twice the amount of fiber from a serving of flax seeds that you would get from the same serving size of hemp seeds.
When it comes to eating these seeds, keep the fact that flax seeds are indigestible in mind. For your body to be able to make use of them, they have to be ground or chewed thoroughly. Hemp seeds can be eaten as they are without any need to mill them. Flax seeds also contain the soluble fiber known as mucilage. Mucilage allows flax seeds to be used as an egg substitute.
The oil in flax seeds consists of 55 percent alpha-linolenic acid, while the oil from hemp seed has only 15-20 percent. The high amount of alpha-linolenic acid is what accounts for the short shelf life of flax. In addition to having less alpha-linolenic acid (and a longer shelf life), hemp oil has stearidonic acid.
Along with the nutritional content, you should consider the taste of these seeds. Fresh golden flax seeds have a light flavor with subtle nutty notes and a little earthiness in the brown variety. Rancid flax seeds may be slightly bitter and taste burnt. Hemp seeds have a simple nutty flavor that can be compared to sunflower seeds and pine nuts.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
How well flax and hemp seeds work as replacements for each other depends on how you use them. Hemp seeds are not mucilaginous, which means that they are not good substitutes for flax seeds that are being used in place of eggs.
Flax seeds can be used whole; however, they are not an ideal hemp seed substitute given their tough outer coating. They are much easier to digest when ground to make flax meal. You can use hemp seeds whole or ground in any application that requires flax seed, with the exception of applications where flax seeds are being used as egg substitutes.
When should you use flax seeds and when should you use hemp seeds?
Use flax seeds in vegan baked goods where it can stand in for eggs. Grind the meal for use in homemade granola or spoon it over your yogurt to give it a crunchy texture. You can use hemp seeds in baked goods and you can sprinkle it over salads or add it to a pesto. Like flax seed, you can add it to your cereal or to your yogurt.