Annatto seed is a natural food colouring which comes from the seeds of the Achiote tree. The fruit is heart-shaped with thick spiky hairs. Once the fruit is ripe, it can easily be opened by hand to extract the red seeds.
It is a popular ingredient in Latin American cuisine, along with Caribbean and Filipino cuisine. It is often used in soups, stews, sauces and marinades where it gives a sweet, peppery flavour. In addition, it gives a natural intense colour that can range from yellow to dark orange when used as a colouring agent, although the seeds have a deep, bright red/orange colour. Cochinita Pibil is a well-known dish in which the Annatto is indispensable. This is a traditional Mexican stew. The pork is slowly cooked in a sauce which includes Annatto, which gives it its red colour until the meat falls apart completely. Annotto is also responsible for the yellow colour of butter, margarine and cheese, which would all have a pale creamy colour without the addition of this natural colouring.
The Annatto seeds are usually soaked in oil, made into Achiote paste or ground into a powder before being added to a dish. This is because the small seeds are hard and difficult to remove from the dish later. Click here for Annatto powder.
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