The seeds of the shrubby Achiote or Annatto tree (Bixa orellana) are the source of annatto dye, which contains the soluble reddish-orange carotenoid pigment known as bixin, one of the most widely used natural colorants in the world (second only to saffron in economic importance). Annatto has major uses in the food and cosmetics industries and annual world consumption exceeds 10,000 metric tons. There are a range of varieties of Achiote that differ in traits including not only the shape and color of flowers and seed capsules, but also pigment concentration. The market price of annatto is proportional to its bixin concentration. (Nisha et al. 2012; Akshatha et al. 2011)
Annatto, which is the only member of the plant family Bixaceae, is cultivated widely in the tropics. It was widely distributed and cultivated in the New World tropics long before being spread around the globe (Leal and Michelangeli de Clavijo 2010). The leaves of the plant are ovate with a round, heart-shaped base and a pointed tip. The petioles (leaf stalks) are swollen at both the base and apex. The flowers may be white, pink, or purple. The fruit capsules are bi-valved (i.e. with two halves that fit together) and covered with soft bristles. Upon ripening, they split open to reveal numerous reddish-orange seeds. Annatto is produced mainly in the aril portion of the seed. Bixin is an apocarotenoid and constitutes up to 82% (w/w) of the total pigment present. Akshatha et al. (2011) found that plants bearing pink flowers and red ovate fruit-bearing varieties were superior in their growth, number of fruits per bunch, seed number per fruit, and annatto pigment content. (Akshatha et al. 2011 and references therein)
Aspects of the cultivation of Achiote and the downstream processing of annatto pigment have been reviewed by Aparnathi et al. (1990) and Satyanarayana et al. (2003), respectively.
There has been much interest in analyzing the biochemical pathways used by Achiote to synthesize bixin, as well as in understanding the genetic and biochemical bases for differences among varieties. These investigations may lead to the development of more efficient and more predictable methods of bixin production through genetic engineering and/or tissue or cell culture (e.g., Bouvier et al. 2003; Rodríguez-Ávila et al. 2011; Mahendranath et al. 2011)
Although not completely up-to-date, much information on international trade in annatto is available from the 1995 FAO publication Natural Colourants and Dyestuffs.
Derivation of specific name
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: Common cultivar in the neotropics.
In terminal panicles, pink turning white. Flowering throughout the year.
A capsule, reddish brown, two-valved spiny. Seeds many, red. Fruiting throughout the year.
A small evergreen tree."
Habitat & Distribution
Life History and Behavior
Persistence: PERENNIAL, Long-lived
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Leaf contains cyanidine and ellagic acid. Seed yields a red carotenoid pigment, bixin, made into a paste widely used by Amerindians of the Guianas as a decorative body-paint, and by manufacturers and homemakers as a food coloring agent under the names "achiote" and "annato".
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bixa orellana
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bixa urucurana
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked
Reasons: A cultivated shrub which does not exist in the wild state. Several related species occur in the Amazon basin. It has been spread by cultivation and is now found from Mexico to Argentina and Brazil, and in the West Indies from Cuba and Jamaica to Barbados and Trinidad. It has been widely planted and naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Uncommon in cultivation in southern Florida. In Bolivia it is found in abandoned plantations in warn zones (180-1800 m).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Whole plant: In mixture applied to feet to prevent chigoes (Pulex penetrans). Stem: Young shoots applied locally on abscesses. Sap from bark and crushed leaves for skin rashes; bark decoction for malaria; angina, asthma. Leaf: Sap from petiole used, in hot water with rum, to remove secretions from encrusted eyelids as a treatment for blepharitis; antiemetic. Decoction for dysentery, and as a wash for fevers. Infusion used by Surinam Wayana as a wash for muscular aches and fevers; for children's fevers and vomiting; detersive; manioc poison antidote. Seed: Shell, pulp and juice are vermifuge and insecticidal; red coloring matter used for mosquito repellent. Employed for asthma and nasal cavity problems. Washed seeds are boiled until the water becomes viscous, then strained, and mixed with coconut oil or palm oil and daubed with cotton onto the skin skin of young girls at the time of puberty to prevent “bad-eyes” or “evil-eyes”, i.e., to prevent the girls from being stared at to make sickness, by the Guyana Patamona. Fruit: Fruit is used for flavoring food, especially curry, as well as used to rub the skin to prevent sores, probably from sunburn, by the Guyana Patamona.
Uses: FOOD, Spice/herb/condiment, Other medicine/drug, Tannin/dye, ESTHETIC, Cosmetics/personal hygiene
Production Methods: Cultivated, Wild-harvested
Comments: From a ripe plant 5 kg of red seed pulp may be harvested. Bixa is widely used by indians as spice, as repellent against insects, and mainly as body paint. The red seed pulp was an important trade object for exportation to Europe in the 18th and 19th century. Recently the demand for bixa products is increasing as the need for non-toxic and non-carcinogenic substances for colouring cheese, butter, lipsticks and ointments is growing. A pulp extracted from the pod is dried and pressed into cakes or rolls for the market.
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Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. Central and South American natives originally used the seeds to make red body paint and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote is sometimes called the lipstick tree.
The tree is best known as the source of annatto, a natural orange-red condiment (also called "achiote" or "bijol") obtained from the waxy arils that cover its seeds. The ground seeds are widely used in traditional dishes in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico; such as cochinita pibil, chicken in achiote and caldo de olla. Annatto and its extracts are also used as an industrial food coloring to add yellow or orange color to many products such as butter, cheese, sausages, cakes, and popcorn.
The species name was given by Linnaeus after the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana, an early explorer of the Amazon River. The name achiote derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, āchiotl /aːˈt͡ʃiot͡ɬ/. It may also be referred to as aploppas, or by its original Tupi name uruku, urucu or urucum ("red color"), which is also used for the body paint prepared from its seeds.
Bixa orellana is a tall shrub to small evergreen tree 20–33 ft (6–10 m) high. It bears clusters of 2 in (5 cm) bright white to pink flowers, resembling single wild roses, appearing at the tips of the branches. The fruits are in clusters: spiky looking red-brown seed pods covered in soft spines. Each pod contains many seeds covered with a thin waxy blood-red aril. When fully mature, the pod dries, hardens, and splits open, exposing the seeds.
Bixa orellana originated in South America but it has spread to many parts of the world. It is grown easily and quickly in frost-free regions, from sub-tropical to tropical climates, and sheltered from cool winds. It prefers year-round moisture, good drainage, and moderately fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. It can be propagated from seed and cuttings. Cutting-grown plants flower at a younger age than seedlings.
The main commercial producers are countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and also India and Sri Lanka, where it was introduced by the Spanish in the 17th century. Production statistics are not usually available, and would not provide a reliable guide to international trade since many of the producing countries use significant quantities domestically (e.g. Brazil is a large producer and consumer, needing additional imports). Annual world production of dried annatto seed at the beginning of the 21st century was estimated at about 10,000 tons, of which 7,000 tons enter international trade. Peru is the largest exporter of annatto seed, annually about 4,000 tons; Brazil the largest producer with about 5,000 tons. Kenya exports annually about 1,500 tons annatto seed and extracts and is the second-largest exporter, after Peru. Côte d'Ivoire and Angola are also exporters.
Ground Bixa orellana seeds, often mixed with other seeds or spices, are used in form of paste or powder for culinary use, especially in Latin American, Jamaican, Chamorro, and Filipino cuisines. The coloring and flavoring substances from the aril can also be extracted by heating the seeds in oil or lard, which is then used in cooking. These condiments are used on many dishes and processed foods, such as cheese, butter, soups, gravies and sauces, cured meats, and many more. They are used mainly to impart a yellow to reddish-orange color to the food, but to some extent also for their subtle flavor and aroma. They can be used to color and flavor rice instead of the much more expensive saffron.
The Yucatecan condiment called recado rojo, or "achiote paste", is made by grinding the seeds together with other spices. It is a mainstay of the Mexican and Belizean cuisines. A similar condiment, called sazón ("seasoning"), is commonly used in the cuisine of Puerto Rico for meats and fish.
Before synthetic dyes revolutionized industry, the tree was planted commercially for the pigment, extracted by solvent or boiling the seeds in oil, which was used to color cheese, margarine, chocolate, fabric and paints.
In several European countries (e.g. Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) that pigment has been and often still is used as color in margarines and several other foods. The seeds are collected from wild-growing bushes or from plantations, in Latin America, Africa (e.g. Kenya), and Asia. However, since no strong organization promotes the use of annatto, the color beta carotene, which is more expensive, has pushed the natural pigment out of many applications.
Traditional and potential medical uses
The red paint prepared from the seeds has been used by American natives as a sunscreen and for the treatment of sunburn. Possible medical and nutritional properties of annatto extract have been investigated.
Other parts of the plant have been used in folk medicine and for the treatment of certain infections. Extracts of the leaves of achiote showed antimicrobial activity in vitro against Gram-positive microorganisms, with maximum activity against Bacillus pumilus.[non-primary source needed] The sesquiterpene ishwarane isolated from plant exhibited moderate antifungal activity in vitro.[non-primary source needed] Achiote leaves have been employed to treat malaria and leishmaniasis.
The tree was incorporated into the traditional medicine of India, where different parts of the plant are used as diuretic, laxative, antibilious, antiemetic, and astringent agents, as a blood purifier, in jaundice, in dysentery, and externally as scar-preventive.
Achiote has long been used by American Indians to make a bright red paint for the body and hair. Body-painting with urucu remains an important tradition of many Brazilian native tribes. It was reportedly used for body paint among the native Taínos in Borinquen, Puerto Rico. The use of achiote hair dye by men of the Tsáchila of Ecuador is the origin of their Spanish name, the Colorados.
With fruits in Hyderabad, India
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bixa orellana.|
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FG Creole: rocou, roucou, rocouyer. FG Galibi: ururu. FG Wayapi: uluku. Guyana: ruku. Surinam Akuriyo: ku-cha-muh. Surinam Arawak: schiraboeli billi, sjiraboeli. Surinam Carib: koeseweweran, koeswe, kuswe, toenataletano koesoewe. Surinam Sranan: koesoewe. Surinam Tirio: weh-de-whe-pwe-muh, wu-sha-muh, wu-she-muh. Surinam Wayana: oh-not, o-no-toi-meh. Guyana Patamona: ah-non-da-yik.
Informant for the “bad-eyes” use of the seeds was Mrs. Elsie Pio, a Patamona Indian of Guyana (S. Tiwari, pers. comm., 16 September 1995).
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