Friday, February 20, 2009

Annatto / Achiote Seeds

Have you ever heard of annatto seeds from the achiote plant? If not, I would love to make an introduction. These seeds are one of nature's most vivid forms of food coloring and are commonly used to color cheddar cheeses, butters, and margarines. Therefore, if you have ever eaten cheese, butter, or margarine, you should not be afraid of cooking with these seeds.

I know you are thinking, "What in the hay-hole are these seeds, and how do they taste?" The seeds themselves are mild in flavor. If you pop a crunchy one in your mouth, it will taste similar to a bland peppercorn, leeched of any spiciness, with an almost indiscernable aftertaste of saffron or clay. (How do I know what clay tastes like? Okay, I did try clay when I was a kid, but I thought it was chocolate pudding!) However, these seeds are not used for flavor, but more for the stunning rust-colored hue. Grown and harvested in South and Central America, you simply heat these seeds in oil to release the dark and potent jasper coloring. These seeds lend their vibrantly rich, Sedona red color to the Vietnamese soups of bun bo hue and bun rieu. Latin American cuisines also often employ achiote paste (a flavorful paste made of a panapoly of spices and annatto coloring) in their cuisine to deepen the color of mole sauces and even enrich the visual colors in tamales.

Check out your local Asian or Latin American market for packs of these seeds, and start experimenting!


  1. Interesting....thanks for sharing dear.

  2. I'm buying some today to start making some Filipino dishes! And if you haven't checked my blog lately.. I put up my adobo recipe :)

  3. I totally forgot I had a bag of these seeds hanging out in the back of my spice pantry. Thanks for reminding me - I need to make annatto seed oil now!

  4. Learn something new every day. How do you even get seeds to look so nice in your photos?? Amazes me.

  5. Thanks for the info, passionate eater! I will search them!

  6. Interesting. I have never thought to improve the natural appearance of the food I cook with natural supplements such as seeds like these. Sounds like a possible new facet of exploration.

  7. I love using annatto seeds. I make achiote oil and use it in my cooking as well.

  8. Ha, I've never seen those before - thanks for sharing!

  9. i should add that puerto rican yellow rice,actually half of pr cuisine, would not exixst without achiote.
    plus they are great for dyeing.
    ask me how i know :)

    neki desu

  10. oooooh. Achiote! We've never used the seeds themselves before, but you can get a block of "paste" (more brick than liquid) from a good Mexican grocer. I like mixing it with a bit of citrus flavor (fresh oranges, etc.) and marinating chicken or tilapia with it for nice grilled proteins.

    The latest thing cool thing we've made with it (along with chipotle and adobo) is to make tacos al pastor. Basically the red pork tacos with pineapples. And fresh tortillas. I can't wait to see you guys again--we can cook 'til we drop!

  11. PE, I've only used the version that comes in a premixed paste from the mexican market and have never seen the actual seeds. Lovely picture and I had no idea they were also used in Vietnamese cooking!

  12. Yes, they are fragrant and vivid Rosa's Yummy Yums!

    You're welcome Navita, thank you for your kind comment!

    Ooo, I am checking out your adobo recipe, now Words and Steel!

    Yes, I can't wait to see your recipes with annatto seeds Nutrition to Kitchen!

    Lots of light and lots of patience Donna-FFW!

    Check out your local Asian or South American store Sophie, and good luck!

    Even those this is a form of natural food coloring, I have heard that there are allergic reactions to annatto seeds Pilgrim Chick, but natural is definitely better than artificial.

    I definitely have to learn how to cook delicious Barbados food from you Cynthia, and it seems that I already have one ingredient in my kitchen for Barbados cuisine!

    You're welcome Biz319!

    Puerto Rican yellow rice sounds delectable Neki Desu! Yes, I will now ask you, "how do you know about this ingredient in Puerto Rican cuisine?"

    I remember your tilapia fillets with achiote paste, and how delicious they were JeffL! I actually tried to link to your Xanga from my website, but the link I previously had for your achiote tilapia post was broken, and I don't know how to accurately use the Xanga search. (Curse you Xanga!)

    And it appears from the comments that achiote / annatto is also used in Barbados and Puerto Rico as well Foodhoe! I would love to see your recipes!

  13. I didn't know they went into bun rieu - is it part of a paste, or is it added in as whole seeds?

    Thanks for adding us as a friend on Foodbuzz. We welcome you to come visit our site!

  14. You just use the coloring, so you cook the seeds in oil and add the oil to bun rieu Nate-n-Annie!

  15. we come from Cote D'ivoire in Africa, we can supply new season's high quality annatto seeds at low price. please check the pictures in my facebook.

    My skype:abidjan.2008


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