Annatto

Annatto

Hellooooooooo! How y’all doing? We have something different to explore in this article today that many people overlook. That’s correct, you read it right, this article is all about annatto! Drop a comment if you have either used or heard of this substance before.

annatto plant
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What is annatto?

 Annatto has a deep orange-red color and is used in many industrialized products to add a yellow or orange color pigment.

Examples include; butter, cheese, condiments, ice creams (yes you read that right, even ice-cream!), margarine, and meats. Since it is also used as a spice,

What does it taste like?

Annatto has an earthy yet spicy/peppery flavor with a slightly sweet and floral aroma.

Achiote tree

Achiote is scientifically known as Bixa Orellana, where it is a perennial plant belonging to the Bixaceae family, that can grow over 30 feet. Tall right? My question to you is, have you ever seen achiote or its tree before? Well, it blossoms white or baby/pale pink flowers that grow in clusters.

What does the fruit look like?

Well, the fruit pods are ovoid in shape, boasting a red-brown color that has soft spiky hair. Once it reaches maturity the fruit pods harden and dries then will burst open, thus revealing the red waxy aril covered seeds; there are about 25-50 seeds in a fruit pod.

Have you ever seen North, Central, and South American natives in red body paintings? That’s because they originally used the seeds to make red body paint and lipstick, where the achiote tree was sometimes referred to as the lipstick tree. The red-orange annatto colorant is potent in the carotenoid pigments, where 79.9% consists of bixin (the red pigment) and norbixin or orelline which is the yellow pigment.     

annatto seeds ground into powder
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How do you make ground annatto from achiote seeds?

Firstly, ground annatto is the powder form that undergoes a process from the seeds. All you need is a spice mill or a coffee grinder but you wouldn’t be able to use it afterward because of the spicy flavor the seeds possess.

Some persons use mortar and pestle, but that will be labor-intensive, as the seeds are hard, thus making it strenuous to grind. If you use a blender you will find that the seeds hardly even grind but rather stain the blender.

Uses

Annatto is mainly used for food coloring, in dyes, and as a spice.

Health Benefits of Annatto

I know some of you may be like- a food coloring has health benefits?! Yes, it does! Let’s dive right in then!

Nutrients/Compounds

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Carotenoids
  • Terpenoids
  • Flavonoids
  • Tocotrienols

Please be advised that the components above are not limited to what is found in annatto, but rather the top components that are notably present. 

annatto seeds in a pod
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Top 4 Health Benefits of Annatto

  1. Surprising Antioxidant properties

Annatto contains various plant-based compounds that execute marvelous antioxidant properties. These include; carotenoids, terpenoids, flavonoids, and tocotrienols (PubMed Central, 2001). Now, what do we also say about antioxidants? They are neutralizers or power-off buttons for highly reactive radicals (free radicals) that are dangerous to your body.

A research study’s findings state that damage caused by high free radical levels is connected to chronic conditions such as; brain disorders, cancers, diabetes, and heart disease (PubMed Central, 2009).

  1. May promote eye health/vision

Annatto is high in carotenoids- bixin and norbixin, which may benefit eye health. Vitamin A is also present along with iron which are very good sources to improve eye health. These components build better cell strength and act as antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that increase the creation of cells that cause eye disease- for example, cataracts.

  1. Antimicrobial properties

Research studies suggest that annatto food coloring may have antimicrobial properties. It being a natural antimicrobial agent, it kills pathogenic microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc.) that damages the body’s cells either directly or indirectly.

  1. It May have anticancer properties

Early research suggests annatto may have cancer-fighting properties (PubMed Central). Where in the research it states that it may suppress cancer cell growth and induce cell death in the human liver, pancreas, prostate, skin cancer cells, and other types of cancer (PubMed Central, 2019). This potential cancer-fighting property stems from the components present in annatto like the carotenoids bixin and norbixin and vitamin E- tocotrienols.

While these findings are hopeful, further human studies are needed to investigate these promising and positive effects.

Other potential health benefits

  1. May aid heart health-due to a good source of vitamin E compounds called tocotrienols, which may protect against heart problems.
  2. May reduce inflammation.
  3. Strengthens bones and muscles.
  4. May accelerate wound healing.

Where can I purchase annatto?

You can check at your local Caribbean, African, or Latino supermarket in the spice aisle for the ground version, or visit online to shop for the seeds where not all supermarkets may sell them.

Best Substitute/Alternative for Ground Annatto

A few top substitutes for annatto powder include:

  • Hibiscus powder
  • Turmeric powder
  • Nutmeg
  • Beet powder
  • Paprika

So, this has been exciting! Short and spicy but informative right? It’s always a pleasure to share such information with you all. We can’t thank you enough for joining us on this health journey/mission. And because annatto (achiote) is considered to be native to South America and Mexico- Adiós y hasta la próxima otra vez mantente a salvo! Meaning goodbye and until next time again is safe!

Other Similar Spices

Overlay annatto seeds in bowls on a wooden background
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