Annatto/Achiote Seeds Pack a Powerful Punch

Many people have never heard of annatto, also called achiote. The closest most of us in North America have come to this tiny seed that grows in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean is cheddar cheese. Annatto is used to color the naturally white cheddar a pleasant shade of orange. Stunning new research shows that this often overlooked spice from the rainforest is very good for us. For centuries, folk healers have used annatto to treat infections topically and orally. Some cultures consider it a digestive aid and a heartburn calmer.

Annatto/achiote is full of the FoodTrients vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids, as well as vitamins B2 and B3 and helpful phytochemicals. Other compounds in annatto are antimicrobial. According to new studies that have looked into the molecular structure of vitamin E, the form of vitamin E available in annatto (tocotrienol) is a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and can lower cholesterol. Vitamin E is integral to skin, hair, and nail health. A company called American River Nutrition ( extracts this superlative form of vitamin E from annatto seeds and sells it as a nutraceutical. Instead of taking an annatto/achiote supplement, you can just cook with it.

Achiote seeds grow inside inedible, spiky, heart-shaped, fruit pods. You can buy powdered annatto or achiote seeds at I prefer working with achiote seeds because I know they haven’t been adulterated with other powders or flavors. The best way for home cooks to extract the flavors and nutrients from the seeds is to simmer them in oil or infuse them in vinegar. The goodness and flavor of the achiote will then be transferred to the oil or vinegar.

I use neutral-tasting oil like corn or canola or grapeseed, which won’t fight the taste of the seeds. Olive oil isn’t a good choice. Coconut oil can work really well especially if you’re planning on making a Brazilian dish. Start with 1 teaspoon of achiote seeds and add ½ cup of coconut oil to a saucepan. Simmer the seeds in the oil over medium heat for 5–7 minutes. Swirl the pan a few times while cooking to keep the seeds evenly distributed. The oil will turn a beautiful orange color and the seeds will sizzle and turn very dark brown. Once all the seeds have turned dark, remove them from the heat. Cool the oil and strain out the solids. Now it’s ready to be used.

To infuse vinegar, place a teaspoon of seeds in a 2-cup container and cover with ¼ cup of white vinegar. You can also use rice vinegar or apple-cider vinegar. Microwave the mixture for 1 minute, then let stand for 20 minutes. Strain the solids out and use the infused vinegar to add flavor when slowly roasting pulled pork with onions. To make a salad dressing with it, combine the vinegar with 1 teaspoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Brazilians use annatto (they call it urucum) in moquecas—fish stews made with tomatoes, yucca, and sometimes coconut milk. Mexicans use achiote with fish, beef, and especially pork. Spaniards use it in rice dishes and to lend color to the skin of young pigs while roasting. Filipinos use atsuete-infused oil to pan-fry rice noodles. Try sautéeing ground beef and onions in achiote oil when you’re making taco filling. When preparing rice dishes, pan-fry the rice in achiote oil before simmering with tomatoes and olives to make a very authentic Spanish rice. Sear chicken breasts in achiote oil before sprinkling them with salt and paprika and then finish them in the oven for a colorful, flavorful take on an old standby.

About Grace O

Grace O has been cooking and baking professionally and recreationally all of her adult life. As a child in Southeast Asia, she learned the culinary arts by her mother’s side in her family’s cooking school. She became so well versed in hospitality and the culinary arts, she eventually took over the cooking school and opened three restaurants. She is widely credited with popularizing shrimp on sugar-cane skewers and being one of the first culinarians to make tapas a global trend. She has cooked for ruling families and royalty. Grace O’s move to America precipitated a career in healthcare, inspired by her father, who was a physician. Twenty years and much hard work later, she operates skilled nursing facilities in California. Grace O strives to create flavorful food using the finest ingredients that ultimately lead to good health. Her recipes, although low in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, are high in flavor. Grace employs spices from all over the world to enliven her dishes, creating food that is different and delicious. She believes that food can be just as effective at fighting aging as the most expensive skin creams. And since she’s over 50 herself, she’s living proof of that.
What Do FoodTrients Do?
Ai Anti- inflammatories

Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.

Ao Anti- oxidant

Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.

IB Immunity Boosters

Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.

MB Mind

Improves mood, memory, and focus.

F Disease Prevention

Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.