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Achiote is a powder made from the seeds of the Achiote plant. This powder is used to color and flavor food items in various culinary preparations. It is also known as ‘annatto’, ‘bijol’, and ‘pimentao doce’. Although the achiote fruit is inedible the seeds are ground to a powder used as a natural food colorant for various cheese, fish, salad oil, drinks, bread, popcorn and butter. It has a bitter-sweet and peppery taste. It is cultivated in the tropical areas of the Americas and South East Asia.


Achiote is a name which originates from Spain. Achiote was first used by the Piura and Cojedes tribes of South America and was discovered by explorers in the 1500s who took it back to Europe and introduced it to people there.

Preferred Methods of Cooking

Achiote seeds are ground into a powder and used directly or in combination with other spices. It may also be mixed with another ingredient such as vinegar, water, lime juice or oil to form a paste or marinade. The seeds are also used for extracting achiote oil, which can then be used for cooking.

Cuisines and Popular Recipes

Achiote is most commonly used in Mexican, Jamaican, Mayan, Chamorro, Filipino and Latin American cuisine. It is used in the preparation of dishes like chicken in achiote, rice, cochinita pibil, caldo de olla and tascalate.

Nutritive Value

Achiote is a rich source of tocotrienols and vitamin E. It has anti-cancer, and diuretic properties. It is also known to combat bad cholesterol. It has anti-inflammatory properties which reduce platelet clumping.

Buying and Storing

It is available in grocery stores that supply Mexican or Mayan spices and condiments. It has a shelf life of 6-8 months and should be kept in an airtight container.


There are various types of achiote available such as black achiote, red achiote or ochre red achiote.

Non-Food Uses

Achiote is known for its many medical and non-food uses –

  • It is used for treating high cholesterol.
  • It is used for removing uric acid from blood, thereby helping in treatment of arthritic conditions.
  • Its use also helps in various disorders related to the urinary and reproductive areas, such as cystitis or prostatic disorder.
  • It has antibacterial, antioxidant, antiseptic and anti-dysentric properties which make it useful for liver disease, stomach disorders, general infections, dysentery, diarrhea and skin problems.
  • It is used for making hair dye and textile dye.
  • It is used for making body paint such as lipsticks.


  • It has been nicknamed the ‘lipstick tree’ because of its use in the production of lipsticks.
  • The powder derived from achiote seeds, is more popularly known as ‘sindoor’ in India. It is applied on the forehead near the hairline by women in India. It is considered auspicious and denotes that the woman is married.
  • Achiote is also known as the ‘poor man’s saffron’.
  • In United States, the Food and Drug Administration considers colorants made from it to be exempt of certification, which makes it commercially useful.