WHAT IS IT?
If achiote (annatto) had a theme song? It would be Chicago’s “Color My World.” Because that’s pretty much what annatto does.
Annatto (Achiote) is an orange-red condiment and food coloring. It comes from seeds of an achiote tree. Ground saves time, and, unlike many other spices, since it’s really only a colorant, doesn’t really cost you anything for freshness, but it has other uses whole, so you may want to try the whole seed.
Annatto is used most often for its pigments that make foods orange to red in color. The flavor, a bit bitter and clay-like is negligible, which is why it is so often used as a colorant. The seed, whole, can be boiled or just soaked to get color. It can also be put into a sachet with other herbs and spices. Otherwise, it is best ground up. I’ll add it to my spice mill to get a spice blend with the right color.
Native to the eastern Mediterranean regions, Brazil and Southwest Asia, it is grown and prized throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and the Philippines
- Cheeses such as Mimolette, Red Leicester, and Cheddar use annatto to achieve an orange or red color;
- Annatto oil is commonly used in dishes like Arroz con Pollo that orange-yellow color;
- It’s the red in the Cuban beef dish Ropa Vieja;
- Poor man’s paella
- On roasted chicken or in any meat seasoning (ground);
- The colorant in arroz amarillo (yellow rice).
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Grind with herbs and other spices and cook in the base oil of a poppin’ poor man’s paella!
- Dress up a traditional mushroom risotto with a little ground;
- Boil annatto, vanilla, and orange peel for my creamsicle ice cream’s “artificial” orange look without going to a dangerous dye;
- Boil the seeds and tea for my Thai iced tea base.
The origins of the achiote are believed to be Brazil, used for ritual body painting, possibly as a sunscreen, and to ward off insects. It has been used both in foods and in early manuscript painting to replace the exquisitely expensive bug-based crimson made from cochineals.
Annatto is a colorant, so it can stain containers and sinks if left in contact for too long. Glass is always a better storage vessel for the liquids made from it. It’s neutral in rices, ice creams, etc.
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