Inside the Spice Cabinet: Achiote

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Luisa Gonzalez P)

Used as both a spice and a food colorant, achiote (also known as annato) is a bright hued ingredient that can bring a mild sweet and earthy aroma to a variety to Latin American and Southeast Asian recipes.

What Is Achiote?

Taste: Earthy
Most Popular Use: Sauce, soups, stew, marinades

Achiote comes in two forms, paste and powder. Made from ground annatto seeds, this bright orange-red spice has a peppery aroma and a subtle flavor that’s been described as nutty, sweet, and earthy. It’s native to tropical areas in the Americas and most commonly used in Mexican, Central and Northern South American, and Filipino cooking.

This bright hued powder also turns foods brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red depending on cooking method and other ingredients. In fact, achiote used commercially to color things like butter, cheddar, and cheese.

When stored in an airtight container, in a cool, dry, dark location, achiote powder can last up to three years. Keep achiote paste stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a few months.

How To Use Achiote

Achiote turns up in one form or another in many major Mexican dishes, from mole sauce, tamales, and cochinita pibil to certain stews and bean dishes. It can be used in a marinade or dry spice rub for grilled meat or mixed with oil to brush onto seafood.

Recipes for Cooking with Achiote