What Is Achiote and Why You Need to Start Using It

What’s bright red, with a nutty aroma and peppery flavor? 

There’s no punchline. This isn’t a joke. We’re actually talking about your new favorite ingredient – achiote. 

If you’ve never heard of achiote, you’re in for a delicious treat. So keep reading, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about using achiote in the kitchen. 

What Is Achiote?

You might know it as annatto, roucou, or even urucul. Whatever you call it, achiote is a magic spice and food colorant that comes from the Bixa Orellana shrub. Otherwise known as the achiote tree, this excellent evergreen thrives in the tropical regions between Mexico and Brazil. 

So, it makes sense that this spice and food colorant is a big part of Latin American cuisine. Although achiote is a brilliant red, it gives some processed food products like meat and fish a yellowish color. Historically it’s also been used as a dye, sunscreen, and body paint, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably more interested in achiote in the kitchen. 

When it’s not being used in small amounts as a food colorant, achiote can add incredible flavor to a dish. After extracting it from seeds, you’ll most often find it in the form of achiote powder. 

Achiote powder is then blended with other spices to give it a more full-bodied flavor and turned into achiote paste. Otherwise, achiote on its own is described as having a light and fresh aroma and tastes slightly peppery. 

What Are the Health Benefits of Achiote?

Apart from turning your dish a rich and inviting yellow and giving it a warm, earthy flavor, achiote is also pretty good for you

Historically, achiote was thought to be an effective treatment for everything from ulcers to heartburn. Scientific research into the use of achiote as a medicinal extract is few and far between. But it’s a great alternative to synthetic food colorants and is a good source of vitamin E. It’s also known for its incredible antioxidative properties.  

How Can I Use Achiote in the Kitchen?

Achiote is a wonderfully versatile ingredient, depending on the type of cuisine you’re cooking. Use it as a powder or mix it with other herbs and spices for achiote paste. It’s a great addition to rice, soups, stews, and curries to give them a subtle spice and deep yellow color. 

When it comes to Mexican cuisine, achiote is most often used to make Pollo Asado. It’s also an essential ingredient in Cochinita Pibil, giving it its signature earthy and smokey taste. Achiote feels right at home in a good chicken marinade.

Vegetarians will love what achiote does to bean dishes, and meat lovers will absolutely drool over how delicious it is in meat rubs. You can even use it as a condiment, sprinkling it over your guac or grilled veggies for next-level tacos.

Spice Spice Baby

Perhaps you consider yourself a spice specialist. Or you’re looking for a new addition to a mouth-watering marinade. Using achiote in the kitchen is a sure way to up your culinary game, especially when it comes to mastering Mexican dishes.

If reading this article has got you craving something deliciously spicy and flavorful, dip into our guac of the day