Organic Annatto Seeds
Organic Annatto Seeds
Annatto seed is the alternate name for the more commonly known "achiote," pronounced "ah-chee-OH-tay." They are called annatto when used in food or in cosmetic applications. The annatto tree has even been called the lipstick tree as a nod to one of its most famous jobs- giving color to bright red lipsticks. The annatto seed, Bixa orellana, is indigenous to the South American region of the world.
The main coloring pigment of annatto is bixin, a valuable oil soluble apocarotenoid that makes up about up to 7% of the weight of the dry seed. This is the most valuable part of the seed for the cosmetic industry and high-end makeup brands will often source annatto seed with high bixin to produce pigment for their products. In the food industry, annatto is called "poor man's saffron" because it adds color to foods similar to how saffron would.
Annatto, or achiote, is called "ushyut" in Arabic, it is "yan zhi shu" in Mandarin, "roucou" is how you say it in French, "annatto" is how you would say it in German, it is "achiottai" in Hindi, "beninoki" in Japanese, "urucum" in Portuguese, it is "annatto biksa" in Russian, and it is called "bijol" in Spanish. In Brazil it is called "urucum."
Annatto seed has long been used as both a seasoning and a coloring agent. Mayans and other Native American groups would make a sunscreen from the oils of the annatto plant, tinting their skins red. This is where the racist term "redskin" originates from, as westerners would use it as a descriptor for the native people in general when they first landed on American shores. Similarly, people in the Caribbean would paint their bodies with crushed annatto, but this was usually only done before a religious ceremony or in preparation for war. The deep red color was used as a representative of strength and courage. In another vein, annatto was thought to cure dysentery and lower fevers and would be used as a medicine by these Native American cultures as well.
Today, annatto is most frequently used in dyeing. For Americans, you will commonly find annatto on the ingredients lists of cheddar cheeses, as it helps give cheese that vibrant, neon, yellow-orange color so commonly associated with cheddar in this country. Lipstick is another day to day product you will find with annatto in it. Annatto is often used in the beauty industry as a color enhancer, particularly in natural beauty products. This is important to note as more and more people are turning toward natural pigments and natural makeup products and are less interested in lab made cosmetics.
The annatto seed plant can grow within a range of a bush of 6 feet to a tree standing 20 feet tall, depending on location and farming techniques, however most are maintained as bushes for easier harvesting. It can be grown from cuttings or seeds, and a new plant will be visible in as little as 16 weeks. The seeds come from pods that grow on the trees in the shape of a heart. These pods are covered in short, stiff hairs. The plant is frost sensitive and thrives in direct sunlight. It prefers areas with a decent amount of rainfall and can tolerate soils that aren't particularly rich in organic material. The annatto plant can be harvested from year-round, and the pods mature in groups of about ten to fifteen. The pods will naturally split open and reveal seeds inside that may range in color from yellow to red to a deep, reddish black color.
Our Organic Annatto Seed comes from India.
In the United States, annatto seeds are used regularly as food dye for cheeses and butter, because of the lovely shades of yellow it can help impart. In the Caribbean, the seeds are used to make annatto oil for flavoring chicken dishes, fish, bread, rice, tamales, and some vegetable-based dishes. To make annatto oil, which can be used in just about anything you add oil to, simply take a half cup of annatto seeds and two cups of oil, and heat over medium heat just until the oil is warm. Once it has reached this stage, reduce heat to low and let it infuse for about two more minutes. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool for 30 minutes before straining the oil from the seeds. This oil can be kept covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks before it will go bad. You can tell when it's gone rancid if you smell it and it smells like crayons.
In Peru, these seeds are used to make pork marinades and they are also used in sofritos. In Venezuela you will find them used in a condiment called "Alino Criollo." Perhaps their most common and most well-known usage is in Mexico where they are a star ingredient in Recado Rojo, a paste or wet rub used to add flavor to meats and fish. Achiote paste is also a crucial part of the Yucatan's signature dish Pollo Pibil.
When used in combination with other spices, these seeds do best with allspice, chili powder, cloves, cumin, Mexican oregano, and paprika. Annatto Seeds go well with beef, chicken, egg dishes, legumes, okra, onions, pork, rice, squash, sweet peppers, and root vegetables. It is also wonderful with coconut-based dishes and tastes good with duck.
Annatto Seeds are extremely hard, and very difficult to grind at home. If you are buying seeds, it is best to use them for coloring or flavoring through infusion, and many American cooks prefer to remove the seeds before consumption as some people consider them too hard to eat comfortably. If you insist on grinding them yourself, a mortar and pestle is much more likely to get the job done than a standard spice grinder. Be warned, this is time consuming! If you want to use ground annatto for its flavor in your recipe, buy that separately.
Annatto seed is delicate, mildly sweet, and has a bit of pepperiness to it. It has an earthy yet flowery undertone to it as well.
If you are using annatto as a food coloring, you can replace it with saffron or turmeric for similar results in terms of a beautiful yellow. In terms of a flavor replacement, there is no spice that tastes similar enough to give a proper substitution. Annatto is rather earthy when added to a dish with a heavy hand, a flavor that isn't entirely agreeable for all people. Turmeric can give a similar earthiness to dishes, if that's the flavor you are looking to enhance.
Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*