Annatto, sometimes called Roucou, is a derivative of the achiote trees of tropical regions of the Americas, used to produce a red food colouring and also as a flavouring. Its scent is described as "slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg" and flavour as "slightly sweet and peppery".
Annatto is produced from the reddish pulp which surrounds the seed of the achiote (Bixa orellana L.). It is used in many cheeses (e.g., Cheddar, Red Leicester, and Brie), margarine, butter, rice, smoked fish and custard powder.
Annatto is commonly found in Latin America and Caribbean cuisines as both a colouring agent and for flavouring. Central and South American Natives used the seeds to make a body paint, and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote is sometimes called the lipstick-tree.
In Venezuela, annatto (called locally 'onoto') is used in the preparation of hallacas and other traditional dishes.
In Brazil, both annatto (the product) and the tree (Bixa orellana L.) are called Urucum and the product itself may also be called Colorau.
In Cuba and other Caribbean islands, both fruit and tree are popularly called Bija (pronounced bee-ha) instead of Bixa.
It is a key ingredient in Mexican achiote paste.
Gently warm the whole seeds in cooking oil or lard to release the colour and flavours.
Grind annatto seeds with a coffee grinder as and when you need them.
Where to buy annatto seeds
I found it difficult to obtain annatto seeds, I eventually got them from The Cool Chile Co. (UK)
- Beans and pulses
- Fish and seafood
- Sweet potatoes