Annatto as Medicine and as a Culinary Colouring Agent

The seeds of the Annatto spice have a bright red colour and is also called "achiote" in some places like Mexico, and is called "atsuwete" in the Phillipines.

This spice is a native to the Caribbean, Central and South America and has a peppery sweet taste with a little nutmeg flavour to it. Grown extensively in my country Jamaica where it is widely used as medicine and as a colouring agent.


There are two compounds that are present in this spice that gives it that unique colour and they are bixin and norbixin which are very similar to beta-carotene, the substance in carrot that gives its colour. One of the common uses of this spice is to make a dye, which makes an orange/red dye colour and is used in products such as cosmetics and textiles.

It is also used to colour some pharmaceutical ointments.

The most common use of this spice is as a food colouring and is sometimes used instead of saffron. The powder is used to colour foods like:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Rice
  • Salads
  • Confectionery
  • Fish
  • Shrimp dishes

annatto salad

The achiote also has some medicinal benefits which includes:

  • as a treatment to colds
  • has antibiotic properties
  • has anti-inflammatory properties
  • as a treatment for fevers and malaria
  • helps with digestion
  • lowers blood pressure
  • the dried seed is used to make a tea and is very effective in helping to loosen the bowels and shrink hemorrhoids
  • is used as a dressing for swelling, skin infections, burns, wounds and psoriasis
  • protects the liver and improve liver function (also helps with jaundice)

Interestingly, it is also said that achiote improves sexual libido. A great spice to add to your list of spices.

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