Achiote powder is a spice that consists of ground annatto seeds, which can be in the form of a powder or served as the main ingredient in a paste. The terms achiote and annatto can be used interchangeably, and you may see this seasoning listed as either in products.
Europe’s first encounter with annatto came via the Yagua Indians of the Amazon basin, who were observed by Spanish explorers to wear clothing dyed with the spice. The Spanish also interacted with Ecuador’s Colorado Indians who used annatto to color their body paint. The European colonists would soon find that while annatto was not ideal as a dye for fabrics (its color faded too quickly), it was an excellent food coloring.
Annatto would become an important cash crop in Latin America. It was exported for use as a coloring for cheese, butter, and various seasonings. The market for annatto as a coloring fell off with the arrival of synthetic food colorings but may rise again as the health effects of these colorings become more widely known.
Flavor profile of achiote
When used in small amounts, achiote imparts a color but no flavor. Only when it is used in large amounts is there a discernible flavor. Achiote’s flavor can be described as nutty and earthy in a way that brings nutmeg to mind. It also has a hint of pepperiness and a slight sweetness.
Health benefits of achiote
- Carotenoids: The waxy coating on achiote seeds contains two carotenoids: bixin and norbixin. These two compounds are responsible for the distinctive reddish orange color of achiote. Bixin is fat soluble while norbixin is water soluble. The ability to dissolve in both lipids and water is rare among carotenoids. The more norbixin is contained in achiote, the more yellow it will appear; the more bixin, the more orange it will appear.
- Calcium: The annatto seeds used to make achiote are rich in calcium, which is important for bone density. Calcium is also important for muscle contraction and is needed for certain hormones to be released.
- Fiber: There is a considerable amount of fiber in achiote. Dietary fiber is important for easing the passage of food through the digestive system and can also help to reduce cholesterol. A third benefit is that fiber can help to optimize blood sugar levels.
- Vitamins: Achiote is a good source of various B-complex vitamins such as folate. Folate is crucial for DNA synthesis. Achiote also contains a lot of vitamin C, which can boost your immune system. Vitamin E is yet another nutrient that this spice can provide. Vitamin E is an antioxidant.
Achiote can be beneficial for treating or preventing conditions like:
- Cancer: Vitamin E, bixin, and norbixin are all powerful antioxidants with cancer-fighting potential. Norbixin has been found to be effective for protecting healthy cells that have been exposed to cancer cells and free radicals. This means that norbixin alone may be able to keep certain cancers from spreading.
- Osteoporosis: Because achiote contains a lot of calcium, it can help to ward off the effects that osteoporosis has on bone density.
- Heart disease: The type of vitamin E in achiote is called tocotrienol and it can lower cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of the most significant factors in heart disease. In addition to its cholesterol-lowering benefits, tocotrienol can help to reduce inflammation.
Common uses of achiote
Achiote is used to color and flavor Mexican dishes like moles and tamales. It can also be used as the coloring agent in yellow rice as well and can be added to sofrito. It is versatile enough to be used in marinades and in spice rubs for grilled meat, especially pork. Achiote is also sometimes steeped in lard to color and flavor it. The lard can then be used to impart the achiote flavor to other dishes.