Technically called Annatto seeds but when used in cooking, the seeds are usually referred to as Achiote pronounced ‘ah-chee-OH-tay”. The scientific name is Bixa orellana and Achiote Seeds are indigenous to South America and today are grown in Brazil, Guatemala, India, Peru, the Philippines and western Africa.
The shrublike plant that produces Annatto seeds has heart shaped pods that are brown or reddish brown at maturity and are covered with stiff, short hairs. The pods are found in groups of ten to fifteen and when fully mature, the fruit splits open, exposing the numerous seeds. The seeds range in color from yellow to red to black.
Annatto seeds are used as a dye in dairy products like cheese and butter and provide a yellow orange coloring. In the Caribbean the seeds are cooked in oil then once infused with the Annatto seeds flavor the oil is strained (discarding the seeds) and used to flavor chicken, fish, meats, rice, tamales and vegetables. In Peru Annatto Seeds are used in pork marinades and in sofritos. In Venezuela they’re used in the condiment alino criollo. They may be best known in the Yucatan region of Mexico in the making of Recado Rojo which can be used as a paste or wet rub to season chicken, fish and barbecue pork.
Annatto seeds are a key ingredient in Yucatan Recado Rojo blend that can be used to make your own Achiote Paste or can be used as a unique grill rub for your chicken. Achiote Paste is a critical part of the Yucatan region’s signature dish Pollo Pibil (sometimes referred to as Achiote Chicken) which is marinated chicken in a banana leave wrap that is then cooked in a fire pit.
Annatto's aroma has a touch of peppermint or flowery scent while the flavor profile is delicate, mildly sweet with a slight peppery taste with earthy and flowery undertones.
Helpful hint: Annatto is mostly used for coloring so be careful not to overuse or the result will be a noticeable earthiness in your recipes that while some will enjoy immensely others will not.
Annatto works well in combination with allspice, chili powder, citrus juice, cloves, cumin, epazote, Mexican oregano and paprika.
Annatto goes well with beef, chicken, egg dishes, legumes, okra, onions, pork, rice, squash, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
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