Annatto (Bixa orellana)

Annatto, sometimes called Achiote, Bija, Urucu, Achuete, Aploppas and Orellana, is produced from the pulp which covers the seed of the achiote (Bixa orellana). It is commonly used to color food products such as cheeses (cheddar, Red Leicester, and Brie), margarine, butter, rice, fish, custard powder and salad oil, and also as a flavoring. Annatto has peppery scent with a hint of nutmeg, and flavor which is slightly sweet and peppery.

Annatto is widely used in Latin America and Caribbean cuisines, providing color and flavoring to the dishes. It is growing in popularity as a natural alternative to synthetic food coloring agent. It can also be used to flavor and color rice, instead of using the more expensive saffron.

The natives in Central and South America use the red color obtained from the seeds to make body paint and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote tree is also called the Lipstick tree.

Achiote or Bixa orellana is a shrub indigenous to the Caribbean and Central America. It has shiny heart-shaped leaves, sometimes with reddish veins. The plant bears attractive pink flowers and heart-shaped fruit capsule with opposing clefts and red prickly spines. When ripe, the pod splits in half to reveal numerous seeds encased in red pulp. Annatto seeds are triangular-shaped, 3-5 mm in size and brick red in color. The seeds are often sold in paste or block form at Latin American markets. Annatto seeds should be kept out of light in an airtight container.

Achiote is commercially grown for the dye product and for its seeds as a spice. Propagation is by seeds and through cuttings.

Bixa orellanaBixa orellana
Author: Frank Kramer (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Fruit of Bixa orellanaFruit of Bixa orellana
Author: Frank Kramer (public domain)

Seeds of Bixa orellanaSeeds of Bixa orellana
Author: Arria Belli (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

Seeds of Bixa orellanaSeeds of Bixa orellana
Author: Leonardo Aguiar (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

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