Annatto seeds

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

Annatto is an orange-red condiment and food colouring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree.

Its flavour is described as “slightly nutty, sweet and peppery”.

The colour of annatto comes from various carotenoid pigments, mainly bixin and norbixin, found in the reddish waxy coating of the seeds.

Annatto and its extracts are now widely used in an artisan or industrial scale as a colouring agent in many processed food products, such as cheeses, dairy spreads, butter and margarine, custards, cakes and other baked goods. Annatto has been traditionally used as both a colouring and flavouring agent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and other countries where it was taken home by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16th century.


Ground annatto seeds, often mixed with other seeds or spices, are used in the form of paste or powder for culinary use, especially in Latin American, Jamaican, Belizean, Chamorro, Vietnamese, and Filipino cuisines. In Mexican and Belizean cuisines, it is used to make the spice recado rojo.

In Venezuela, annatto is used in the preparation of hallacas, perico, and other traditional dishes. Pasteles and sazón in Puerto Rico also contain annatto. Annatto paste 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 the Philippines, it is used for the sauce of pancit.

© 2018 Wessel Woortman

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