Annatto Seed or Achiote

Scientific Name Bixa Orellana

What is Annatto Seed?

Annatto is the seed of a small evergreen tree native to South America. Its most popular use is as a deep orange colorant, but it also imparts an earthy flavor to dishes in Latin America and the Philippines.

What is the History of Annatto Seed?

The Annatto seed has been in use since pre-Columbian times throughout Latin America. It was primarily used as a colorant for food, fabric and body paint.

How is Annatto Seed Grown?

Annatto seed is grown on a small evergreen tree called the annatto tree. Annatto is primarily produced in Brazil and the Philippines, but the tree grows throughout Latin America. The tree develops large rose-like flowers which then offer prickly, orange-red pods containing about 50 angular seeds. The pods are harvested when ripe and macerated in water to create a pulp which is then pressed into cakes for dyes. As a spice, the seeds are generally dried.

How Can I Use Annatto Seed?

Annatto seeds are used to color rice and broth of stocks and stews. The seeds can be fried in fat over low heat to color the fat which can then be used for cooking. Annatto is often used to marinade meats and fish. Annatto is particularly popular in Mexican cooking especially in the Yucatan region.

Fun Facts

  • Annatto Seed is the ingredient that makes cheeses (such as cheddar and colby) the distinctive orange color
  • Annatto seed may have been an ingredient in an ancient Olmec beer recipe. Dogfish Head brewery has recreated this recipe in their beer Theobroma.


Herbs and Spices by Jill Norman

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Written by Leah Sugar
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