What is Annatto (Achiote)

Alternate Names
Annatto is also known by the names – Roucou, Achiote, Achuete, Atsuwete, Anatta, Annotta, Aploppas, Arnotta, Arnotto,Orellana, Orlean,Orleana, urucu, bija, bijol, foucou, latkhan, sendri, atsuwete etc

What is Annatto? Its Origins?

Image courtesy - Wikipedia

Image courtesy - Wikipedia

Annatto seeds come from the tree/shrub” Achiote” which are commonly found in the tropical regions of the America. It is produced from the reddish pulp which surrounds the seed of the achiote. This shrub has shiny heart-shaped leaves, sometimes with reddish veins. It is said that its attractive pink flowers were what attracted people and made it popular. The fruit is like a capsule with prickly red spines. After it is ripe, this pod is split in half within which about 50 or so seeds are held encased in a red pulp.

This pulp is used as dye products. It is also used in cosmetics and textile manufacturing. The Central and South American natives use the seeds to make body paint and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote is sometimes called the lipstick-tree

Culinary Uses

Wikipedia describes the seeds possessing a scent which is “slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg” and flavor as “slightly sweet and peppery”. Annatto is used for coloring cheeses, confectionery, butter and cheeses. It is more widely used in the Caribbean and Latin America, especially Guatemala and Mexico. The seeds are also particularly associated with 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 coloured vegetable and oxtail stew. It is known as “poor man’s saffron” as the color is similar to the more expensive seasoning.

Different Types and their Availability

Different types of Annatto products are available in the market. Any of them will work for your needs. Available year-round. These are mostly available in Latin American markets. Or you can easily order online

  1. Annatto seeds : These are brick red, triangular in shape, 3 – 5 mm (1/8” – 3/16”).
  2. Annatto powder
  3. Annatto Oil : Any unflavored oil can be flavored and colored with achiote seeds. It is used in Mexican and Indian cuisine to add a bright reddish-brown color and a distinctive flavor to many foods including fish, fowl, meats, rice dishes, and tamales
  4. Achiote Paste: The seeds are ground and made a paste along with the addition of water or vinegar and sometimes with few herbs and other spices.
  5. Achiotina : This is a lard compound that has been flavored and colored with the seeds. Used for cooking beans, stews and rice dishes.

Preparation and Storage

The seeds can be added directly to a cooking liquid or infused in hot water until the desired color is obtained and then used for stocks or coloring rice. It is also common to fry the seeds in oil for a few minutes (best done in a covered pan as the hot seeds jump), then discard the seeds and use the oil. Try using one teaspoon of seeds to 4 tablespoons of oil. Annatto seeds should be kept out of light in an airtight container.

Substitute in cooking
Saffron is common. Otherwise a  pinch of paprika (for color not flavor); an equal amount of saffron; yellow food coloring OR hot paprika OR equal parts turmeric and paprika


  • http://www.cuisinenet.com/glossary/achiote.html
  • http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/annatto.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annatto
  • http://www.recipezaar.com/library/annatto-seed-397
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