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Annatto also known as bija, baixa, axiote, achiote, urucu, pumacua, roucou or onoto is a seed from the Axiote tree (Bixa Orellana).  It is originally from South America, used at large by different indigenous tribes in the Amazon and the Caribbean coasts.  Its uses vary- as a food colorant, a textile dye, an insect repellent, sunblock or for bodily decorative purposes. In modern times it can be thought of as the South American saffron.

The seeds are not edible.  Their use is as a dye or food colorant.  To release its intense orange color it is boiled in water or oil (making sure that the seeds are not burned, otherwise it releases a burnt taste, not agreeable).  For hallacas (special holiday dish from Venezuela) the seeds are diluted in lard (as seen in the video above).  But for cooking more traditional things, such as rice (e.g. for paella or arroz con pollo) I prefer to use regular oil.  The annatto oil keeps well in an air tight container and it can give a lot of color to your meal!  If you prefer to use olive oil, do not use an extremely high quality one, as the annatto seeds will alter its taste.   Think of it uses the same way you would use saffron.  It can be bought at most South American markets.The achiote paste is found in Mexican markets, which is used to make different dishes (very typical of the Yucatecan region).  You can see how this seed, made into a paste, can works as a repellent or for sun protection when applied to the skin.  If ingested as a food coloring agent, the seed itself has a slight peppery taste (not too strong), and it has vitamin C, iron and proteins.  In Venezuela onoto is used to dye the corn flour used for hallacas (above) and to also color the dough for empanadas (particularly the ones from the coast, filled with cazon- baby shark).  The color and the quality of the dough are key for the perfect hallaca eaten in December in Venezuela!


Anonymous - i just bought some annatto seeds to use in an ecuadorian potato soup dish, but after doing a bit of googling i see the seeds can possibly cause allergic reactions. :(
now i’m scared to use it.

Adriana Lopez - What I know about annatto seeds as an allergen is not much, but I found two interesting things. One, it is not qualified as one of the eight major allergens (cow’s milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat). But, in some tests, annatto, a natural food dye, has tested for similar reactions as other synthetic or artificial food coloring agents.

If you have had reactions to food coloring before, I would say do not use annatto seed for coloring your soup.

Thank you for your comment and I hope this helps.


Miami Culinary Tours - Great post again, I love your blog as we feature a lot of Latin ingredients and dishes on our Miami food tours, I love this post to be able to explain people what annatto seeds are. Would love to have you at one of our foodie tours should you come to Miami! My name is Grace and you can contact me at the email I added here.

Adriana - Hi Grace, thank you for the invitation! If I make it to Miami I will make sure to let you know, it would be fun to explore Latin food in Miami and compare it to how it is presented here in San Francisco. Regards,

Dr. Shrikant LIMAYE - In India a company promoted Annatto plants and promised a good price for seeds. But by the time the plants started producing seeds the company disappeared. I have collected the seeds from a disillusioned farmer and wish to use it in home-made sweets by boiling a few seeds in water.AZnyone has used the seeds in coloring sweet preparations ?

adriana - Hello Dr Shrikant: annatto seeds in Venezuela are not usually used for coloring sweets. But if you dilute the annatto seeds in water (instead of oil to avoid a change in flavor to your recipe), the final product should be perfect with little alteration on flavor.

If you do use the annatto seeds for coloring your sweets, could you please take a photo of your final dessert and send it to me? I would like to see how it looks and learn about the taste too.

Thank you,

Ana - Hi/Hola, I am going to use the annatto to make a yellow fondant. I hope it comes alright! The fondant is is very sweet(mashwmallows & sugar), so I am hoping the sweeteness will not go away. I am extracting the color in water. I am going to boil only the water so I can have a more concentrated color.
I’ll let you know my results.

Adriana Lopez - Ana- I am curious to see how the fondant comes out! As long as you don’t let the seeds burn, the taste of the fondant shouldn’t be altered. Can you please see me photos of the recipe as you make it including the finalized product? I am really curious to see how it comes out! Thanks again for checking in,

Rachelle Joy Aranas - hello……………………………………………………

Rachelle Joy Aranas - hai………………………………………….

Rachelle Joy Aranas - frhahaha………………………………………………………..

Rachelle Joy Aranas - great post…

Adriana Lopez - Thanks! Did you cook with annatto before or after reading the post?

carlos guerra - Dear

sell, exported, Peruvian product

Mango pulp, maca, sacha inchi oil, annatto, cochineal, quinoa, and cocoa beans.


vendo, exporto, producto peruanos

Mango pulp, maca, oil sacha inchi, achiote, cochineal, quinoa, and cocoa beans.

Best Regards

Carlos Guerra

Incorporacion Internacional MAYRA EIRL

Address: Antonio raimondi manzana j lote 8 los olivos – lima – Peru

tel_ 511 4853051

cell phone: 511 968602619


alikhatib - hi dear
im alix khatib i live in africa and i do sell anatto seeds in whole sale and im looking for buyers abroad with good prices verry good price i have it by tons if ur intrested ccontact me 0022558909442

Wally - I’ve used annatto seeds all my life for rice coloring, I’ve never simmered in water but in oil, and you can save the unused portion in a glass container for later use. I’ve never used the grounded seeds either but you can add the oil to soups, rice safely

Yuvraj - Maybe you can help me. my question is: how do I know if Annatto seeds are of good quality or not?

Leah - Hi, i ate the seeds! I ground them up but it was not producing a powder so I just dumped them whole into my fish. Now I am freaking out thinking I have poisoned myself! Seriously, I never saw this on any site until now. Should I be worried!

wally - I don’t think there’s a way of knowing the quality of the seeds…. I try to extract the color boiling water……results! A total disaster!

Like I said before I’ve been cooking all my life with sharp seeds but totally prefer to boil the seeds in oil to extract the color, you will tossed the seeds away, but be careful not to boil them on high heat or for to long cause instead of red will turn orange and it won’t be as good

marshall oppong Dekutsey - i have annato seed 300 metric tones in a warehouse in Ghana and i want buyers of it. kingly contact me at skype: madeop123

jenny teiko - its been nice and interesting working with Annatto seeds try it with anything in the kitchen and you will never regret you did.

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