It’s nearly time to send Purim shalach manos (Purim baskets) so I’m going to devote the next couple of posts to unusual shalach manos ideas. You can skip this brief post and scroll down to the recipe at the end. Or, read on.
In the past, I’ve included living corn chips and salsa, sprouted rye crackers, gluten-free coconut-date granola, date-sweetened marzipan, living flax crackers, sprouted hummus, organic cinnamon applesauce, and other unexpected homemade items in shalach manos. Purim is such a miraculous time that even die-hard junk foodists are willing to try something different. Unless of course it’s the wine talking and I’m kidding myself.
Anyway, I’ve not planned what to make next week (update: I try to prepare the week before Purim) but because our Purim treats are going exclusively to people with various disabilities and who are taking medication, I know I’ll be super-careful with the ingredients. I suspect each basket will have to be personalized, which I kind of enjoy doing.
It’s really not that hard to make all those trendy raw and living foods, including homemade dehydrated crackers, even if you don’t have a dehydrator. Of course, you can buy them if you like. Many raw, living, sprouted, dehydrated products are pretty-much mainstream…and certified kosher. In the past couple of years flax crackers, sprouted chips, and other “health food” snacks have made their way into supermarkets so you don’t even have to go out of your way. But are these commercial products really healthier than other commercial or non-sprouted snacks?
Some of the sprouted products are fried or baked, which kills the enzymes present in sprouted foods and defeats the purpose. Some are dehydrated at low temperatures, which most agree preserves some enzymes, although choosing a temperature that is high enough to kill bad bacteria but still low enough to preserve enzymes is tricky. Some of these commercial products contain large amounts of salt or tons of dried fruit (concentrated sugar) which can be a problem. You believe they’re healthier so you eat more of then, and may consume way more salt or sugar than you need. Also some of them are super expensive.
Take living flax crackers for instance. They generally run about 5 or 6 dollars for 4 oz. Why? They aren’t particularly labor intensive to make and flax seeds are used in chicken feed, they’re that cheap.
Flax seeds and their oil have long been valued because of their high content of essential fatty acids (primarily Omega 3s) as well as lignans and some other nutrients. However, what many don’t realize is that our bodies cannot breakdown the whole flax seeds in order to make use of the Omega 3s (as opposed to ground flax seeds and flax seed oil where the benefits are accessible).
But ground flax seeds and their oil must be refrigerated and have a very short shelf life. The essential fatty acids are heat sensitive and spoil easily. That’s why if you see a recipe for baked or cooked items that contains flax seed oil or ground flax seeds (I see them published all the time), don’t bother, it’s a waste.
Whole flax seeds, on the other hand, provide fiber and may be added to baked goods since we primarily consume them in their whole form for their fiber, not their heat-sensitive nutrients. Soaking flax seeds in water or other liquid forms a gel that some compare to aloe in its benefits to the digestion. However, if they are soaked a long time (in which case they begin to sprout), they become bitter. Some say that the amount of oxalic acid which prevent the absorption of calcium and other minerals increases when sprouted, but I can’t find evidence of this. Still, the amount of oxalic acid is fairly high, which may be a very good reason to avoid all flax products if you have certain health or nutrition issues.
It’s important to keep in mind that most natural foods and medicines, flax is beneficial in moderate amounts for some people, but not for everyone. Ground flax seeds and flax seed oil may be a good source of Omega 3s, but they do contain ingredients that stimulate the production of a type of estrogen, again good for some, not for others (it depends on your age and other factors).
Increasing the production of hormones is also a very important reason to avoid eating soy products such as soy milk, tofu, and most foods containing soy ingredients, except for fermented soy products-don’t buy into the hype. Scientific tests on soy are almost exclusively funded by the soy industry, those that aren’t, show clearly that soy is a problem.
Some basic advice: Never give children or adolescents ground flax seed or flax seed oil unless directed by an experienced holistic nutritionist or physician. (Same goes for soy foods).
Whole flax seeds are a good source of fiber, but they must be eaten in small quantities with plenty of liquid because they can actually cause digestive blockages. If you have been recommended to take whole flax seeds and enjoy the taste of those pricey living/raw flax crackers, here’s one easy recipe that costs pennies and is all about crunch.
Basic Living Flax Crackers
1 cup golden or brown flax seeds (the golden ones are milder in flavor)
1 and 1/2 to 2 cups water
Preheat oven to 225. Sort flax seeds (you can find dirt, rotted seeds, etc.). Mix water and flax seeds in bowl and let sit at room temperature for ten minutes. Stir well, and let sit an additional ten minutes or until they form a gelatinous mass. You may have to add more water if it is too thick or stiff. It’s best to do this before going to bed at night.
Spread thinly in a large rectangle on (parchment paper lined) cookie sheet or dehydrator sheet. Dehydrate for 25 minutes at high and then dry according to dehydrator instructions OR bake in 225 degree oven for 25 minutes (to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of mold) and then for 8 hours at the lowest oven temperature. 115 degrees is ideal, but if your oven temp is higher, then keep the door slightly open while baking. Lay a piece of parchment paper over cracker and flip over. Bake for an additional 4 hour or until dry and crispy.
Servings: 8-10 servings. It’s best not to eat more than 2 tablespoons of flax seeds at a time. If your stomach is sensitive, either skip this recipe or just eat a bite.
Variations: Add your favorite spices, herbs or seasoning blends. Remember to add seasonings in small quantities as their flavor will intensify when dehydrated/baked. These are particularly good with 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Notes: Like flax seeds, chia seeds are an excellent vegetarian source of Omega 3s. The great thing about chia seeds, is they don’t have to be ground in order to benefit from their essential fatty acids. They also don’t have to be refrigerated or even kept cool. However, there are some contraindications for taking them. If you do take them, make sure to drink plenty of water and only eat small quantities of the seeds or they can cause digestive blockages. I prefer to use flax seeds as a minor ingredient in living breads or baked goods. I’ll try to remember to post a really delicious sweet sprouted rye flat bread which contains a sprinkle of flax seed, soon.