September Herb of the Month; Annatto

Annatto, Bixa Orellana

• An orange-red dye or colorant, flavoring for food and healing agent derived from the seeds of
the achiote tree, an evergreen native to tropic and subtropic zones of the Americas
• Spiny red fruits contain the seeds and the reddish pericarp that surround the seed contains
the annatto or color
• Foods colored with the annatto pigment range from yellow to deep orange and include
chorizo sausage, cheese (like cheddar and American), smoked fish, popcorn, oil, butter,
margarine, rice as well as processed products like snacks and breakfast cereals
• Historically used to create a face or body paint by rainforest tribes and natives of the
Caribbean; Applying the paint lips dubbed achiote tree the lipstick tree; annatto paint was
also used as a sunscreen, bug repellent, food, and medicine
• Aztecs enhanced the color of hot chocolate with annatto
• Commonly used in Mexican cooking, especially in the Yucatan where it is toasted and ground
into a paste; also common in Caribbean and Filipino dishes
• In large amounts, the flavor has been described as earthy, slightly peppery and sweet flavor;
As a colorant, it has no discernable flavor
• Available powdered or pre-ground, whole seeds, paste, blocks and flavored oil
• Can be found in skincare products
• Is antimicrobial and high in antioxidants and carotenoids


Annatto Bixa Orellana
Tips for Use:
• Infuse seeds in boiling water or other hot liquids to make a deep orange colored water to be used in
cooking or crafts such as soap making
• If using as a dye, contain the seeds in a tea bag to avoid straining out the seeds

Annatto Oil

Common in Latin American cooking, this orange oil infuses dishes with instant depth and quite often with their
signature golden color. We’ve made three times the amount you’ll need for the yellow rice with pigeon peas because annatto oil is also called for in our recipes for arroz con pollo and Ecuadoran potato cakes with peanut
2 tablespoons annatto seeds
¾ cup olive oil
Heat annatto seeds and oil in a very small saucepan over low heat, swirling pan frequently, until oil is bright red-orange
and begins to simmer about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.
Strain annatto oil through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding seeds.
Cook’s note: Annatto oil keeps, covered and chilled, indefinitely.
Maggie Ruggiero, Gourmet, September 2007
Yellow Rice with Pigeon Peas Barely a day goes by at the Puerto Rican table without rice and beans making an appearance, but this version is
pull-out-the-stops-special rather than every day – you won’t believe how much flavor can be packed into such an
understated dish. The secret is an abundantly seasoned sofrito – the flavor base – and the slight crust, called pegao,
that forms on the bottom of the pot.
For Sofrito:
1 Cubanelle pepper (Italian frying pepper), seeded
and chopped
5 fresh aji´ dulce (small sweet chiles), halved and
½ cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
3 fresh recao leaves (cilantro), chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped

For rice:
1 (1/4 pound) piece of smoked ham, diced
¼ cup annatto oil
1/3 cup chopped pimento-stuffed olives
1 tablespoon drained bottled capers
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 (15-ounce) can pigeon peas, rinsed and drained
3 ½ cups water
Make Sofrito: Purée all sofrito ingredients in a food processor
Make the rice: Cut out a round of parchment or wax paper slightly larger than a diameter of a wide 4- to 5-quart pot.
Pat ham dry and cook in annatto oil in a pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until starting to crisp, about
4 minutes. Add sofrito, olives, and capers and cook, stirring, until liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add rice
and cook, stirring, until it sizzled, about 2 minutes.
Stir in peas, water, and 1 ¼ teaspoons salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-high heat until
almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes, reducing heat to medium once water is below the level of the rice.
Gently stir from bottom to top, then smooth top of rice. Place parchment round directly over rice and cover pot with
a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat to low and cook, undisturbed, 30 minutes.
Remove from heat, then discard parchment and gently fluff rice with a fork. Cover with lid and let stand 10 minutes.
Cooks’ notes: Pork can be marinated up to 3 days
Maggie Ruggiero, Gourmet, September 2007

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