The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Soak OR grind flax seed for bread?

subfuscpersona's picture

Soak OR grind flax seed for bread?

When adding flax seed to bread, is it better to grind it into a meal (using an electric coffee mill) OR soak it in water?

Which method makes the flax seed nutrients more bioavailable? Which method better reduces the tendency of flax to interfere with gluten development?

I've spent countless hours searching the web with no definitive answer. Here's the gist of what I've found...

> Recipes from professional bakers commonly recommend soaking flax. (However, this may be a result of their background - it is hardly cost effecient for a bakery to be grinding their own flax meal on a daily basis, it's much easier and less labor intensive to use a soaker.)

> Bloggers who are home bakers sometimes soak, sometimes grind. There's no concensus.

> Nutrition mavens tend to recommend grinding over soaking but never give any valid, verifiable, scientific reference(s) for their preference. If I can't find independent research that supports their claims, why should I trust them?

If you can enlighten me - especially if you can give me references to solid articles in peer-reviewed journals that I can access on the web - I'd love to hear from you. Thanks in advance.

clazar123's picture

Ground flax:

Any time you grind a seed there are more nutrients available for absorption by the host.There is a higher surface area exposed. Simple mechanics-it is why we chew our food-to expose more surface area of nutrients for our digestive tract to absorb from.

 Flax is high in omega3 oils. The problem with grinding oily seeds is that the oils start oxidizing the minute they hit the air. For maximal availablility of nutrients they suggest grinding immediately before use. I don't get that anal and just buy it preground and freeze it. As with any oily seed, you want to make sure it isn't rancid before adding it to anything-tastes awful!

Flax in any form (whole or ground) will absorb water and form a gel. It is actually used as an egg replacer in baking for people with egg allergies. I suspect the gel helps trap the bubbles formed by the leavener to raise the cake/muffin/dough. I imagine it would also assist in bread dough height. I use it routinely in my daily WW Breakfast Bread-1/4-1/2 c for every 4 c WW.  I've never made it without the flax so I don't know how it affects the loaf.


Whole seeds still deliver all the nutrients-at least to horses-even if some "pass unchanged in appearance in the manure" (according to an equine nutrition article I found). Flax has long been fed to animals for its nutritional benefits-sheen on the coat,decreased joint inflammation. Hmmm. Maybe that's why my hair has been shinier lately! Some humans have mechanical trouble with small seeds of any kind in their digestive tract-they can get caught and cause inflammation.

The seeds provide a nice appearance and crunch when put into a bread dough whole. I've never had a problem incorporating small seeds into a dough and having it tear the gluten, only with larger seeds. In its whole form, it still absorbs water and that needs to accounted for in a recipe. That may be why the bakers soak the seeds-in order to account for the proper moisture in the batch. If you don't pre-soak the seeds, they will continue to absorb the moisture from the crumb and affect product quality. That is what happens with WW, also.

I have seen reference by fear mongerers about "cyanide" compounds in flax as a reason for soaking/not soaking/grinding/not grinding. That is a non-issue to me. There are all kinds of compounds in all our food. No one has been poisoned by eating flax,cherry pits (used as a flavorant in the Mideast), apple seeds (not sure why you'd want to) or apricot/peach pits (again- eaten in parts of the world for their nutty taste).

So if you want the crunch and appearance of whole seeds, soak them so they don't rob the dough and crumb of moisture and mix them in early. If you want greater/easier bioavailability of nutrients, add ground flax and increase the liquid and add an autolyse to the recipe (or a long retard).

Have delicious fun!


I thought this was an ok reference:

In case you just had to know about the equine aspect:

hanseata's picture

I can only add that I recommend soaking (whole) flax seeds for 12 hours or more, before adding them to the dough.

In my experience well soaked flax seeds do not really add a discernible crunch to the bread, but they a fully digestible, and look nice, especially in whiter breads (see Leinsamenbrot

If I don't have the time for soaking, I use ground flax seeds, but otherwise I prefer whole seeds, they cost less and are easier to store.


subfuscpersona's picture

Many thanks to those who replied.

After many months of experimental bakes, I now routinely produce a flax seed bread that looks like this -


My conclusions -

> if you want nutrition then mill whole flax seed (in an electric coffee grinder) to a coarse meal> if you want appearance only, then simply soak whole flax seed. This approach is what you'll see in most recipes from professional bakers.> keep the flax seed weight to max 10% of the total flour weight. Too much flax seed makes for a heavy bread.> always soak your flax seed, whether used whole or milled to a coarse meal.> water used to soak flax seed should be about 2 X (by weight) the weight of the flax seed.==========I sell this bread on a small scale. My buyers like the inclusion of flax seed but would not tolerate a heavy loaf.
hanseata's picture

Allow me to disagree:

German Leinsamenbrot, one of the most popular breads I sell, has 21.4% flax seed (24-hours soaked) per total flour weight, and it is not heavy at all!




tmarz's picture

I grind the seed and replace part of the flour with it. These seeds must be ground to get their nutrients... however chia seed (which is great for you) doesn't need to be ground to get to their nutrients. 

subfuscpersona's picture

According to researchers from Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, flax seed should be ground to provide maximum nutrition

The flaxseed supplement was given in ground form because in the whole form the seed coat is hard and undigestible.

Here's the reference -

belfiore's picture

From Teresa Greenway of Northwest Sourdough. Her recipe makes awesome tasting bread and brings out the sweet nuttiness of the flax seed. I used KAF's golden flaxseed & her tip of needing longer than normal final rise is true. I find her recipes always turn out for me because she tests them thoroughly first.

search for the recipe  Flaxseed Heaven (sourdough, of course!)


dabrownman's picture

most of the time if not used for decoration because that is what nutritionists say is the best way for your body to actually utilize the nutrients.  I have no idea of this is correct.  Chia seeds are cute and I use them too.  Hanseata has me hook on hemp seeds just as the price skyrocked - never soak them, if you want that great crunch they they can surprise you with when you least expect it.  Soaking them turns them black, which is nice in a white bread.

MNBäcker's picture

I don't mill OR soak mine. I actually make a Whole Wheat Flaxseed Bread that also has Chia Seeds in it. When I add up the flour, flax, chia and vital wheat gluten, it's at a 89% hydration! Sounds crazy, and looks like heavy oatmeal when originally mixed. However, after a 30 minute autolyse, three S&F and a nice bake in the WFO, they look like this:

The bread is wonderfully moist and has the nice nuttiness the flax and chia provide (along with the added fiber punch:).



spsq's picture

89% hydration?  I'd like the recipe.  And can you send me the WFO too?


VonildaBakesBread's picture

I'd certainly like to try the recipe, WFO or not! Will you share it, please? Or send a link?

joyfulbaker's picture

When I bake mandelbrot (biscotti only with fat added--I use canola oil), I sometimes substitute one of the eggs with 1 TBSP of flax meal (either preground by Bob's Red Mill or ground by me in a coffee grinder) combined with 3 TBSP warm water (I guess you'd consider that soaked).  This, according to BRM packaging, is a substitute for one egg.  The soaked meal takes on a gel-like consistency.  It does fine in the finished product.