Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The name derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, achiotl. It is also known as Aploppas, and its original Tupi name urucu. It is cultivated there and in Southeast Asia, where it was introduced by the Spanish in the 17th century. It is best known as the source of the natural pigment annatto, produced from the fruit. The plant bears pink flowers and bright red spiny fruits which contain red seeds. The fruits dry and harden to brown capsules.
It is of particular commercial value in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration considers annatto colorants made from it to be "exempt of certification". It is used as a colorant and condiment for traditional dishes such as cochinita pibil, rice, chicken in achiote and caldo de olla. It is also used to add color to butter, cheese, popcorn, drinks, and breads. The main achiote growers are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.
The inedible fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain annatto, also called bixin. It can be extracted by stirring the seeds in water. It is used to color food products, such as cheeses, fish, and salad oil. Sold as a paste or powder for culinary use, mainly as a color, it is known as "achiote," "annatto," "bijol," or "pimentão doce." It is a main ingredient in the Yucatecan spice mixture recado rojo, or "achiote paste." The seeds are ground and used as a subtly flavored and colorful additive in Latin American, Jamaican, Chamorro and Filipino cuisine. Annatto is growing in popularity as a natural alternative to synthetic food coloring compounds. While it has a distinct flavor of its own, it can be used to color and flavor rice instead of the much more expensive saffron. It is an important ingredient of cochinita pibil, the spicy pork dish popular in Mexico. It is also a key ingredient in the drink tascalate from Chiapas, Mexico.
In several European countries (e.g. Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) the pigment, extracted by solvent or boiling the seeds in oil, have been and often still is used as color in margarines and several other foods. The pigment has E-number E160b. The seeds are collected from wild-growing bushes or from plantations, in Latin America, Africa (e.g. Kenya) and Asia. However, since there is no strong organization promoting the use of annatto, the color beta carotene, which is more expensive, has pushed the natural pigment out of many applications.
Achiote paste, favored in Yucatán and Oaxacan cuisine, is made from the slightly bitter, earthy flavored, red annatto seeds, mixed with other spices and ground into a paste. Achiote is a distinctly colored and flavored mainstay of the Mexican kitchen.
A typical preparation mixes:
- 1/4 cup annatto seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup bitter orange juice (Seville) or 1/3 cup white vinegar
Grind the spices (annatto, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, oregano and cloves) in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Blend the ground spices with the salt, garlic and the bitter orange juice until it is smooth. Rub the mixture onto chicken, pork or fish and let it marinate for 4–6 hours then cook as usual. Or use the achiote as an ingredient in another dish.
The paste is dissolved in either lemon juice, water, oil or vinegar to create a marinade, and marinated or rubbed directly upon meat. The meat is then grilled, baked, barbecued or broiled. Sometimes it is added to corn dough to create a zesty flavor and color in empanadas and red tamales.
- The achiote has long been used by American Indians to make body paint, especially for the lips, which is the origin of the plant's nickname, lipstick tree. The use of the dye in the hair by men of the Tsáchila of Ecuador is the origin of their usual Spanish name, the Colorados.
- B. orellana and annatto
- Van Wyk, Ben-Erik (2005). Food Plants of the World. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc. ISBN 0-88192-743-0