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Annatto

Achiote, Anatta, Annato, Annotta, Aploppas, Arnotta, Arnotto, Orellana, Orlean, Orleana, Rocou, Roucou,Annatto,Achiote, Achote, Urucu, Bija, Bijol, Foucou, Latkhan, Sendri, Achuete, Atsuwete

Bixa orellana L.

Annatto seeds are crimson red, triangular in shape and between 1/8" and 3/16".
The fresh seed produces a delightful scent that is slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg and subtle lemon like tones.
The Annatto seed flavor is earthy, somewhat musky slightly nutty, sweet, and peppery with a light almost bitter after-taste.

Annatto is a derived from the seeds of the achiote trees native to the tropical regions of the Americas. Having grown in popularity, today achiote trees are cultivated throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including Central America, Africa and Asia.

Traditionally, Annatto is commonly found in Latin America and Caribbean cuisines and widely used both for favor and color. Many Latin American cuisines use annatto in recipes of Spanish origin that call for saffron. Annattois used in arroz con pollo, to give the rice a yellow color. In Venezuela, annatto (called locally Onoto) is used in the preparation of Hallacas, Perico, and other traditional dishes. In Brazil, both annatto (the spice) and the tree itself are called Urucum, and the spice may also be called Colorau. In the Caribbean, both fruit and tree are popularly called achiote or bija.

Annatto may be better known to Mexican and Latin markets as Achiote or in the Philippines as Atsuwete or Achuete. In the West it used to color confectionery, butter, smoked fish and cheeses like Cheddar, Cheshire, Leicester, Edam and Muenster.

As mentioned before, annatto is often used as a natural food coloring, but as a spice flavor, it is very popular in the Caribbean and Latin America, especially Guatemala and Mexico. Annatto seeds are also important to Filipino cuisine, in dishes like; Ukoy, shrimp and sweet potato fritters; Pipian, chicken and pork in an annatto oil sauce; and kari-kari, a brightly colored vegetable and oxtail stew.

Annatto seeds may be somewhat hard to find but are available whole and can often be purchased in Latin American markets. Annatto may be sold as a paste or powder for culinary use, mainly as a color, commonly known as "achiote," "annatto," "bijol," or "pimentão doce." It is a main ingredient in the Yucatecan spice mixture recado rojo, or "achiote paste."

Medicinal Uses

Historically Annatto has been used as:
  • Anti-oxidant
  • Antiseptic
  • Digestive aid
  • Fever reducer
  • Topical relief for blisters and burns

Annatto was once used to control fevers, dysentery and kidney diseases, though is now used mostly as a dye in medical preparations such as ointments and plasters. In India the inedible pulp of the fruit pod is used as an insect repellent.

*Always check with your healthcare provider before using any natural or homeopathic substance of pharmaceutical. My Spice Blends is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medicine or therapeutic remedy.

Other use

The achiote is sometimes called the "lipstick-tree" in Central and South American because natives use the seeds to make a body paint and lipstick. Achiote originated in South America and has spread in popularity to many parts of Asia. It is used to produce a yellow to orange food coloring and as an effective natural coloring it is also used in cosmetics and textile manufacturing.

Annatto coloring is produced from the pulp which surrounds the seed of the achiote. Achiote dye is prepared by grinding seeds or simmering the seeds in water or oil. Because it is a natural colorant, companies using annatto may label their products "all natural" or "no artificial colors" but, "Natural" does not, of course, mean safe or non-toxic, it has been linked to some cases of food-related allergies.

Annatto has had many uses over the centuries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including as a food dye, body paint, treatment for heartburn and stomach distress, sunscreen and insect repellent. Natives of Central America, the Mayans; reportedly used annatto as body paint, while the Aztecs added it to drinking chocolate.

In the kitchen

Annatto is finding popularity in the modern kitchen as a natural alternative to synthetic food coloring compounds. Its unique flavor helps to capture the nuance of regional cuisines and add authenticity to Latin American, Caribbean, and Mexican fare.

Craft your own Annatto Golden Oil and add flair to your own culinary creations with this quick, easy to make recipe. Look for annatto seeds in specialty food stores and ethnic markets. Annatto seeds can also be found as a paste or in powder form that dissolves in the hot oil.

Annatto (achiote) Golden Oil Recipe

Try using the Annatto Golden Oil in place of a recipes' regular oil or fat ingredients to color homemade sauce, puddings, rice, sauces, etc. While achiote has a distinct flavor of its own, it can be used to color and flavor rice instead of saffron (which is much more expensive). Annatto is an important ingredient of Cochinita Pibil, the spicy pork dish popular in Mexico and a key ingredient in the drink Tascalate from Chiapas, Mexico.