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Synonyms: annatto seed, achiote, achote seed
botanical name: Bixa orellana


Annatto is a pigment made from the seeds of the annatto shrub, which stems from the Amazon region. Presumably, it was already used in the Mayan culture. The shrub grows today mainly in the Caribbean and in tropical South America.



Annatto seeds can be bought whole or further processed as pastes.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The annatto shrub is also known as 'lipstick tree', because of the dyeing effect of the seeds. These are covered with a red-orange or brown, thick and heart-shaped pod, which itself is covered with soft barbs. As many as 40-50 seeds are enclosed in such a pod. The pod bursts open by itself and reveals the red, triangular, ca. 3-cm long seeds. A shrub can produce up to 270 kg of these seeds.

Annatto has a violet-like scent and tastes spicy. The fresh seed is peppery and slightly sweet. However, after it is dried is quickly loses its aroma.



The essential oils in the seeds, constituting 0.3-0.9%, are determinative for the slightly flowery scent. For example a chief component is ishwarane, as is the flavonoid cosmosiin.


In addition, the seed contains carbohydrates, about 3% fat, 13-16% protein and up to 5.5% pigments.


High concentrations of carotenoids are found in annatto oil in particular. These play an important role in the prevention of cancers, arteriosclerosis and other diseases.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Only the reddish seeds are edible, not those that have already turned brown in the pod. The optimal method of storage is airtight and as dark as possible.


Presumed effect on health

Annatto seeds were used earlier for kidney diseases, dysentery and fever. Today they are still used as an insect repellent in India.


Both boiled annatto leaves and ground annatto seeds are used as remedies for elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels. In high doses they are supposed to be diuretic. In some persons even very negligible amounts can have this effect, for example when they are used only as a food colouring.


A positive effect on prostate and urinary disorders is also attributed to the annatto leaves. In addition, it is supposed to be an antiseptic remedy for eye, ear, and skin infections.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

The yellow-red dye bixin is made from the seeds and the aril; it is used to colour cheese, baked goods, desserts, ice cream, the edible rinds of cheese and sausage, and snack foods, but also clothing and wool. Moreover, it is sometimes used in the soup, cosmetic, and paints and coatings industries.


The seeds themselves are suitable for seasoning meat and fish dishes and are used to make seasoning sauces and pastes such as Mexican mole.


Frequently, the seeds are also added to the cooking water to colour rice and other foods. It is also popular to eat fried seeds.





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