Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Achiote or Annato - Wednesday Facts

Today is Wednesday. It's no Friday but it's not Monday, either.

To honor the fact that we are in the middle of week, I will tell you five facts of life, about me or someone else, faith, world and existence in general.

And what I want from you, my readers?

I want to know about you! 

Leave me your facts, so I can enjoy reading them!

They can also be about you, your life or anything you find fascinating in this world or in the world beyond.
By Leonardo Ré-Jorge (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Achiote or Annato?

Achiote is popular Latin American spice that goes by the name of annatto in English.

Annatto is the seed or extract from the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Latin and South America.

Annatto is used heavily in Central and South America as a dye, medicine, and as an ingredient in many foods.

It is a naturally intense dye which can range in color from bright yellow to deep orange.

Many commercially made food products utilize annatto for its potent color.

Achiote or annatto is mainly used to give a golden orangish color to the food.

Achiote or Annato as condiment

Achiote is a must have for things like refrito or sofrito, as well as for many soups, stews, and rice dishes in Latin America.  

Its flavor is very mild and is usually not noticeable in most dishes that use it but there are some exceptions to this and some traditional dishes, carne colarada or achiote braised meat for example, which use a lot of the spice and you can actually taste it in the dish.

Annatto’s flavor can be described as earthy, musky, and slightly peppery. 

In the US, achiote can be found in most Latin supermarkets, and even in some regular chain grocery stores.

It’s usually in the section where they have the ground or dried chilies, or in the spice section.

Achiote or annatto can be found whole, in small seeds, in ground or powder form or mixed with oil.

For most of my recipes I use it mixed with oil because it is safer and easier to use.

If you live in a city where you can’t find achiote, you can use mild paprika as a replacement, more for the color it gives the food than for the flavor.
Tsachila indigenous people of Ecuador in Quito.

Achiote or Annato tree

The fruit of the achiote tree is shaped like a heart and covered with thick, spiky hairs.

As the fruit matures, the pod opens to reveal its red seeds.

The seeds and pulp have been used for hundreds of years for a variety of purposes.

The seeds can be ground into a powder, turned into a paste, or infused into oil.

Achiote's or Annato's commercial use

Commercially, the seeds and flesh are process to extract the potent dye.

You might be more used to Achiote than you even knew.

Annatto is responsible for yellow butter, margarine, and cheese, all of which would be a pale creamy color without the benefit of achiote.
Cheddar cheese acquired its classic orange color from annatto in the 1800’s when it was thought that high quality cheeses were yellow due to higher quality green grass fed to cattle.

Annatto is used as a colorant in many other commercial products such as processed meats, smoked fish, beverages, and a variety of packaged food.

Annatto is a natural colorant and therefore can be included as an ingredient in foods labeled “all natural” but despite being all natural, achiote cannot be labeled as “organic” unless the plants from which it is derived are grown under certified organic conditions.

Because annatto is plant derived, it is an acceptable ingredient for vegetarians.
Tsachila indigenous people of Ecuador.

Achiote or Annato in culture

Achiote seeds are usually steeped in oil or ground to a powder prior to adding to recipes, rather than adding the seeds whole and it is a key flavor component in many Latin and South American dishes.

In Ecuador, Tsachila indigenous people use achiote to color their hair and this is where they have derived their popular name, Los Colorados or colored/painted people.


  1. How interesting! I definitely learned something new today. I have never heard of this spice before!

  2. Oh I've never seen anything like this plant. Its so interesting to see what grows in different parts of the world. Its beautiful.

  3. I'd never heard of Achiote or Annato before... thanks for all of the great info!

  4. One thing I love about traveling is finding new foods that I've never heard of. I've never been to Ecuador, thanks for sharing!

  5. Very interesting-I think I might have to research this a bot more and see if they sell it anywhere near me!

  6. That was absolutely fascinating! I had never heard of this before.

  7. What a strange looking plant. I have never heard about this spice before.

  8. I have heard of annato before---just never knew what it was.

  9. Who knew! Thanks for sharing these facts, now i know something new!

  10. It's great to hear about a natural dye agent instead of all that yucky artificial stuff they put in our food.

  11. I love all your pictures of nature and the culture. They are so colorful!

  12. Your pictures are beautiful. I have never heard of it before.