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Adding flax to food products

FARGO, N.D. -- Apologies to Flaxville, Mont., but the real Flaxville might have been Fargo this past week. First, there was the first-ever Flaxseed: Adding Functional Food Value short-course, March 24 to 26, hosted by the Northern Crops Institute...

FARGO, N.D. -- Apologies to Flaxville, Mont., but the real Flaxville might have been Fargo this past week.

First, there was the first-ever Flaxseed: Adding Functional Food Value short-course, March 24 to 26, hosted by the Northern Crops Institute, a multistate entity based on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Then there was the 62nd annual International Flax Institute, which was held at a local hotel, March 26 to 28, run by Jack Carter, a former NDSU plant science department head.

The NCI effort is somewhat historic. There were 13 participants in the "short course," from large and small companies and with international enrollees from Canada and Columbia. The NCI had prepared for as many as 20 participants, but officials seemed happy with this first effort, especially before the prime time of April to October, when the region's weather and agriculture are most attractive to course participants.

"Were hoping to grow the course and organize it annually," says Mehmet C. Tulbek, the NCI's pulse and oilseed specialist since January 2006.

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The NCI is a nonprofit agency that is funded by state legislatures in North Dakota and South Dakota and through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Montana Wheat and Barley Council, as well as through commodity group checkoff dollars. The nine-person agency is producer-governed and works to advance the use of northern-grown crops both domestically and abroad. About 97 percent of the nation's flaxseed production is from North Dakota, and much of the rest is from the surrounding states.

"This course is targeting food processing companies," Tulbek says. "We're trying to teach them how to utilize flaxseed in food products, to increase omega-3 fiber and help them with 'healthy product' and omega-3 claims."

Many topics covered

Topics were wide-ranging, including flax production, flax quality, milling and the use of flax in dough systems and bread products, as well as extruded snacks and tortillas. Some of the discussion was on shelf life and nutritional attri-

butes of the flaxseed components and benefits.

In food production parlance, there is a difference between being a "good" and an "excellent" source of omega-3, which was one of the topics.

A "good" source means it contains 130 to 200 milligrams per serving, Tulbek says.

An "excellent" source means it contains 260 to 300 milligrams per serving.

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In a 56-gram (2-ounce) serving of pasta, for example, it would have about 2 percent flaxseed for the "good" source and 4 percent for the "excellent" source, he says.

One of the issues with flaxseed is the shelf life.

When flaxseed is incorporated into pasta, for example, the particles of flaxseed are encapsulated in the starch protein in the dried pasta. That keeps for an extended period of time, the ordinary shelflife of conventional semolina-based pasta. In other, wetter products, the flaxseed is "acceptable."

Tulbek credits the NCI-NDSU collaboration with creating a "nice flaxseed team" in Fargo. Clifford Hall III, an assistant professor of cereal science at NDSU, does basic research on flaxseed that will continue to develop the crop as a food ingredient.

Clamoring for more

Kaye Effertz, executive director of the AmeriFlax organization, based in Mandan, N.D., says there seems to be no slowing of the increase in companies trying to get omega-3 from flaxseed into food products, a trend that has been going on for about seven years but has been heating up in the past three or four.

Effertz says AmeriFlax fields many calls from food companies throughout the U.S. and often refer people to Hall and Tulbek. "It's kind of unique because there aren't many experts in this field. It's great to have these guys here."

Brian Sorenson, the NCI's new executive director, says the NCI gets a part of its revenue in using its pilot-scale processing machines to help companies develop potential products, or answering quality questions. Tulbek estimates that the NCI might test, on average, about 10 flaxseed-related products a year.

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Effertz and Tulbek also say there is expanded interest in flaxseed inclusion into pasta products, granola bars and breakfast cereals, as well as tortillas and breads and muffins.

"There's more in pasta, more in extruded snacks, more 'flour' tortillas, breads, hard breads and pan breads," Sorenson says.

"We have seen a huge increase in companies interested in adding flaxseed to products," Effertz says, noting that the interest from these companies has been apparent when her organization attends at the Institute of Food Technologists Association events.

Effertz points to the recent inclusion of omega-3 into SunButter, a product of Red River Commodities of Fargo, as an example.

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