Achiote / Annatto
[Aploppas; Achiotl (Nahuatl); Bijol; Bija (Caribbean); Recado Rojo (Mexico); Atsuete (Philippines); pimentão doce (Spanish); Bixa orellana of family Bixaceae]
Seeds of he Achiote shrub, probably native to Brazil, have a pleasant but subtle aroma and flavor, but it is for their color they are most widely used. Aside from ethnic cuisines, the intense red-orange pigment, annatto (E160b), is used to color cheddar cheese, margarine, smoked fish, custard powder and other foods. It includes two pigments, one oil soluble which is more red, and one water soluble which is more yellow. The photo shows seeds (about 0.2 inch long) and oil extracted color.
The seeds are used in cooking in the Philippines, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and northeastern parts of South America. Seeds, Leaves and other parts are used medicinally for a number of conditions. Sap from the (inedible) fruits is used to treat type 2 diabetes and fungal infections. The red pigment has long been used by tropical American Indians as body paint and hair dye.
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Both color and flavor are used in the cuisines of the Philippines, Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and northeastern parts of South America. It is also used to some extent in India and Southeast Asia. Three forms are used: oil extracted color, water extracted color and ground seeds.
Buying & Storing: The whole seeds are sold in plastic packets in the spice section of markets serving communities as listed above. In a sealed jar, stored in a cool place away from light, the seeds will last up to a year. They slowly lose their red color and should be discarded when noticeably faded to brown.
Annatto Oil: In a pan place 1 part Annatto seeds and 2 parts Oil. Pure and pomace olive oil (not virgin) work well and are stable. Heat the oil carefully and stir continuously until the desired color has been reached. Be careful not get it too hot or both color and flavor will be destroyed. Strain and store in a tightly sealed jar where it will have about the same shelf life as the type of oil used.
Annatto Water: In a mortar, place 1 part Annatto Seeds and 2 parts Water. Let soak 20 minutes. Crush the seeds to release more color and let soak another 10 minutes. Strain out the seeds and discard them.
Atsuete: This is simply seeds ground to a powder. In the Philippines recipes often call for "1 atsuete", meaning one packet. A packet contains 10 grams / 1/3 ounce, the weight of 1 level tablespoon of seeds. Just put a tablespoon of seeds in your spice grinder and reduce to powder.