Annatto is a food coloring agent extracted from the achiote tree. The yellowish orange ingredient is also known as the Roucou and grows in the tropical regions of America. The flavor is quite unique as it can be both sweet as well as peppery at the same time. The sweet flavor similar to that of a nutmeg is utilized by various dishes which are prepared according to specific recipes containing the coloring agent.
The coloring is obtained from the pulp or the pericarp that surrounds the achiote seeds. Natural cheeses like Brie, Gouda and Cheddar make use of the coloring property of the annatto as do the rice dishes, butter, margarine and varieties of custard powder.
It is found in Latin America as well as the Caribbean. It is also grown in Central America, Asia and parts of Africa. The fruit of the achiote is not edible but the pulp covering the seed has various culinary as well as other uses.
History of Annatto Recipes
The Latin name for the ingredient is Bixa orellana L which is believed to have come from the name of Francisco de Orellana, the Spanish conqueror who is credited with having explored the Amazon River. The tree is believed to have originated in Brazil but the Caribbeans’ and the South Americans used it extensively in the ancient times. However, the recipes were developed much later as the initial uses of the pulp were limited to creating dyes and body paints.
Culinary Uses of Annatto
It is used as a coloring agent predominantly in the Caribbean islands as well as in Latin America. Some of the most popular recipes include using the pulp as:-
- A replacement of saffron to give the rice a unique yellowish orange color especially in Arroz con Pollo, a dish cooked in Spain.
- The indigenous dishes of Venezuela namely the hallacas and perico make use of the annatto as well.
- Known as atsuete in the Philippines it is used to add color to the dishes.
- The popular spice blend, Sazon marketed by Goya foods contains the achiote pulp too.
Popular Annatto Recipes
While the ingredient is not quite indispensible when it comes to cooking, it remains a healthy way of adding color and flavor to the cooked food items. Some of the most popular recipes that use the pulp are:-
- Achiote Paste- A paste created by mixing the pulp from the achiote tree along with pepper corns, cumin seeds, vinegar and garlic.
- Barbequed Pig- An orange rub made from the oil of annatto is used to impart a spicy flavor to the barbequed meat.
- Red Beans- Adds color to the side dish of beans cooked with hams, pumpkins, potatoes and cilantro.
Health Facts about Annato
It is equated with a number of health benefits as it acts as an allergen, insect repellent as well as a sunscreen agent. It is also believed to be extremely beneficial for heartburn and stomach ailments.
The tree bearing the annatto seed is also known as the lipstick tree in South America.