What is Achiote?
Achiote – also known as Annatto – is a popular natural food colouring used in Mexican cooking to add a yellow-orange hue to a variety of dishes. It comes from the seeds of the evergreen Achiote tree (Bixa Orellana). The rich red coloured seeds that grow inside the tree’s prickly, heart shaped seed pods are revealed when ripe. The achiote seeds are harvested, macerated and dried before being ground into a powder or made into a paste for use in the Mexican kitchen.
The History of Achiote
History reveals that the colour from achiote seeds was initially used as a decorative body paint, as a sunscreen, as an insect repellent and as natural medicine. Today, achiote is used in home kitchens primarily as a food colourant, much like we use saffron, while on a large, commercial scale it is used to colour and as well as flavour food products like chorizo, snack foods and even cheese. It has a slightly earthy, sweet and peppery flavour.
How to use Achiote
Achiote can be used in the home kitchen as a whole seed, as a ground spice, as a paste and as an oil.
Whole achiote seeds can be sautéed at the start of a recipe to add colour. Alternatively, achiote seeds can be steeped in cooking oil to make achiote oil for adding to all types of Mexican cooking including rice dishes, soups and stews.
Ground achiote seeds mixed with other spices and herbs can be used as a rub.
Achiote is added to the popular spice blend recado rojo which includes oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, all spice garlic and salt.
By adding oil and maybe some lemon and even tequila to the spice blend you can turn your spices into an achiote paste to use as a marinade for adding a smoky flavour to meat, fish, and poultry. If you can’t get your hands on achiote paste locally, you can buy it online from a number of Australian suppliers.
We like to use achiote paste in our Tacos Al Pastor recipe. We marinate pork in a blend of achiote, garlic, vinegar, orange juice and oregano before cooking and serving with fresh salsa, coriander, onion and warm Dona Cholita corn tortillas.