Annatto – color for the kitchen

Do you know Annatto?

Annatto are the seeds of the Orlean shrub that grows in the tropical regions of South America.


It has been used for centuries by indigenous people in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. However, the plant now grows in almost all tropical areas worldwide.

The hard, triangular seeds are contained in the elongated oval fruit capsule, which is bright red at first and becomes darker as it matures. The fruit capsule has bristly hairs. When the fruit is ripe, it opens and then looks a bit like an open beak.


Annatto is used primarily in Central and South America to color food, especially meat

It is often made into a paste or mixed with fat in powder form. The meat is then coated with this paste.

As our cooking teacher in Costa Rica said so well, “we don’t like the chicken meat white.”

In Central and South America, you can buy the ready-to-use paste in the store, in any package size.

annatto paste

You can also fry the seeds in oil and then strain them. You then use the red-brown oil to fry various dishes – which then naturally take on the color.

By the way, the dye of annatto is considered safe for health.

The seeds are also called achote or achiote

They have a slightly floral, but also an earthy aroma that is not particularly pronounced.

In the finished dish, the aroma is almost undetectable.


Outside Central and South America, it is used to color cheddar cheese, and in the past, it was used as a dye for cosmetic products, such as lipstick. Indigenous peoples have also used the dye for body paint.

I, on the other hand, dye my Easter eggs with it every year. They then turn a beautiful orange.

easter eggs

But beware, Annatto really dyes everything – including hands and even clothes!

Do you know Annatto? And what do you do with it?

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