What is Annatto Spice – Any Good Substitute for Annatto Powder

What is Annatto Spice, And Is There A Good Substitute for Annatto Powder?

Food is not only flavor but color, which is why the food industry made it a habit of adding artificial colorants to our food, but that doesn’t have to be that way.

Natural coloring agents are available if you know where to look, and they’re becoming more common every day. For red, it’s all about annatto.

Annatto is not only the most effective all-natural red pigment on the planet; it infuses food with the most pleasant of flavors. Here’s all you need to know about annatto, what is annatto spice, and substitutes for annatto powder.

What is Annatto Spice?

Axiote Tree

Annatto is a spice or condiment derived from the seeds of a fruit, and that fruit comes from the Bixa Orellana, achiote or axiote tree. The tropical tree is widely grown in the Mexican and Brazilian rain forests, and its seeds are coveted for their uses in the food industry. They’re also common in traditional cooking in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.

Orange and red pigments are scarce in nature, which leads industries besides food to make use of annatto. The cosmetic industry refers to the tree as the ‘lipstick tree,’ Don’t be surprised to find the condiment listed even in your most expensive makeup.

Colorful and tasty, annatto or achiote is also considered a nutrient-rich condiment. It has several health properties known by healing men practicing traditional medicine since ancient times and they’re now recognized by hard science. Here are annatto’s most prominent health benefits.

Annatto Health Benefits

Health benefits

Annatto is a fabulous source for antioxidants, including flavonoids, tocotrienols, terpenoids and carotenoids. These compounds can prevent oxidative stress caused by scavenger free radicals floating in your bloodstream, damaging tissue cells, even at a DNA level.

Scientists must conduct more research, but annatto might be effective in suppressing cancer cell growth and could be effective against pancreas, prostate and liver cancer.

Carotenoids, which are well-known health compounds found in squash, carrots, grapefruit, oranges and apricots, are also present in annatto, and can promote eye health.

The red condiment has antimicrobial properties. Some test-tube studies have proven the spice can inhibit growth in several harmful bacteria. Other studies have shown successful results against dangerous unicellular fungi. These properties can extend the shelf-life of food products naturally.

Nutritional Value of Annatto

According to the US National Library of Medicine, annatto, or achiote, is a tasty spice with noticeable health benefits, but it’s also nutritious. Annatto is 13-17% high-quality protein. It is also made of 16% dietary fiber. Phosphorus, a rare, vital mineral, is well represented in the condiment too.

The red spice is also a source for tryptophan, an essential amino acid essential for adequate brain function and Lycin, a building block for proteins.

Food Containing Annatto

Annatto is a looker, the condiment’s color is prized, but so are its spicy and earthy flavors. Dishes like the famous Cochinita Pibil, Yucatan’s flagship pulled pork dish, depends on axiote, as Mayan descendants in the region call it.

Achiote Chicken is a comforting, home-cooked South American meal, and it’s all about annatto too. The famous ‘al pastor’ tacos, or Sheppard-style tacos, the most popular renditions of the Mexican dish, is also red-hued by the condiment.

Annatto is not only present in tropical cuisines; all orange-colored types of cheese, including American cheese, Cheddar, Cheshire, Mimolette and Red Leicester, can thank the red seeds for their color.

All kinds of pastry products, yogurt, fruit concentrates, and 70% of red or orange foods in the supermarket, are kissed by annatto in some way or another.

Cooking with annatto is easy. You’ll find the seeds in the form of paste or powder, and adding it to marinades, soups and stews will give your food a lovely red hue and an enticingly spicy flavor.

Is There Any Substitute for Annatto Powder?

The better substitutes for annatto powder are turmeric and paprika, but perhaps they work better when combined. Both will add spicy and earthy flavors to your food and will taint it with bright colors.

Where to Shop for good quality Annatto

The good news is that you can easily find annatto online and in Mexican specialty stores. It’s as widely available as its substitutes.

If you are looking for Annatto seeds, then check out this link for a good option.

If you are looking for Annatto ground powders then check out this link

Highly Rated – Social Media Chatter on Annatto

This French board showcases the wide variety of color found in the cheese world.

Ask a 7-year-old what color cheese is, you'll hear "Orange." Walk up to a specialty cheese counter and most of what you'll see is white--or at least sort of white ish. So what's going on here?

Cheese is milk. And a couple of other things, like salt, cultures, and a coagulant. And milk is not orange, and if it is you need to call your cow's vet. (Let's stick with cows for simplicity). However, milk is also not quite white, usually. It tends to be white ish tinged a little darker by the matter the animal has been munching on, like grass and whatever sediment comes up with the grass. In fact, the more fresh grass a cow eats, the darker their "white" milk, AND the better it tastes. Which means that traditionally darker cheese was more prized, like the Petit Basque on the right. And as a cheese matured and lost more and more of its moisture, the remaining tasty solid matter shines darker and darker, which is why some very aged cheeses like a gouda look golden orange all by themselves.

Because a darker paste signified well pastured cows and luxurious flavor, we humans got a little human about it and found a way to make it LOOK even "better." We started adding a natural vegetable dye, "Annatto." While imparting no flavor, it gave the paste an orange hue to rival the the dark paste of a mature gouda and gruyere. And this is how the French made Mimolette, pictured on the left, a recipe they created when borders closed during a war and they were no longer able to get their hands on that delicious Dutch gouda.

And that's where the orange cheeses come from. The orange ones you'll find at a specialty counter are dyed with Annatto, and it all started with an attempt to look more like those delicious mature cheeses from grass-fed cows. And that's how we arrived at all those orange blocks of cheddar in the dairy aisle.

So what of the blinding white, like the Camembert in the picture? Well split it open and you'll find that luxurious off-white paste, still higher in moisture so not quite as golden. How does the rind get white? Fungus. You're eating fungus. And it's delicious. 😋

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  • https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/annatto
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annatto
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bixa_orellana
  • https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-23/annatto
  • https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-annatto-1328462
  • laanita.com/blog/8-platillos-no-sabias-tienen-achiote/
  • https://www.livescience.com/52487-carotenoids.html
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6673674/
  • https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/23548/what-can-i-use-instead-of-annatto

8 thoughts on “What is Annatto Spice – Any Good Substitute for Annatto Powder

  1. charsleethan1 says:

    hellooo dear, thanks alot for sharing such an amazing content with us all, i was actually doing some research online when i saw your article and i must say  i really want to thank you for the rffort you put into bringing these site, i already saved these post so as to come back online for future referencing, thanks alot for the info

  2. Hello there! this is an amazing review you have got here. I am sure the quality information in this post will be beneficial to anyone who come across it. I mostly use annatto for treatment and I apply directly on the affected area to treat burns. I will also recommend this for vaginal infections and to repel insects.


  3. Here again with another quite strange spice that I don’t know about and I really love the fact that I am given the privilege to learn something like this from your website. This seems like a very ugly one but seeing all the benefits that one can get from it, I don’t think I wouldn’t want to buy one if I come across it at the store

  4. Thank you P.W. for your informative post on Annatto spice. It is refreshing to hear that they are getting away from artificial colors and are using natural colors more and more.

    There is so much more to the spice, as it is an antioxidant as well as the many other properties that it has. I will be more observant of the list of ingredients to see what foods I find contain the Annato spice.

  5. John2handy says:

    This is information worth a bookmark. I will be trying a few of these, especially the Galangal. l would like to see you do a page on Ginger.  I would also like to see more information on Pine Pollen used as a spice.  I have a website in development conceptually on Male Health Advice so I am always interested and researching things that relate specifically.

    Also, given all the attention lately on infectious diseases, (pandemics) it seems to me that there should me more emphasis on  promoting natural immunity vs, mandatory shooting everyone with a manufactured chemical cocktail.  It is more like they do not really want a cure at all, only an expensive treatment that can make someone filthy rich.

    1. Thank so much, John. We are curating more and more spices and trying to scan throught 100;s of sources to bring these spices in lime light. Stay tuned!

      Its funny you mention natural immunity. I was feeling a bit under the weather, especially in these pressing times I was concerned and unsure about what I might be down with so I took Turmeric immunity shot that I got from my local store and 3 days after I was back to normal. 

      1. Turmeric immunity shot? Interesting. Is that like an injection or like with a shot of vodka?

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