Considered native to Mexico, Belize and areas of South America, the Bixa Orellana shrub’s distinctive red seeds are used to produce the spice, Achiote – named from the Aztec Nahuatl language, also commonly known as Annatto, as well as Roucou in other areas of the Caribbean. After the seeds have been dried and ground, they can be used to give flavour and/or colour to anything they’re added to (it’s often found in Chorizo for this reason) and is one of the most commonly used ingredients in Oaxaca, Yucatán and down to areas of South America. The shrub is found growing readily in Mexico, in Campeche, Chiapas, Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Tabasco, Veracruz and Yucatan.
Achiote can be used in small amounts, as a colourant, or in larger amounts to impart it’s rich flavour. The seeds may be found in markets and grocery stores, whole, ground, in a paste, infused oil, or pre-mixed with other spices such as oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon and more, to produce recado rojo, or Sazon. One thing to keep in mind, is that when buying pre-packaged mixes, watch for other less desirable ingredients such as anti-caking ingredients and colorants that may be added but there’s also lots of recipes online for how to make your own Achiote seasoning from scratch.
Whole Achiote seeds, Annatto Paste and Recado Rojo.
One of Yucatan’s most famous dishes is Cochinita Pibil and Achiote is one of the primary ingredients, in fact, it is so integral to the recipe, it would never taste the same if you skipped it! It’s also one of the main ingredients used in making tacos al pastor, one of Mexico’s most popular tacos fillings, lending both flavour and giving the pastor it’s iconic colour.
Mixing Achiote and other spices, then liquifying it with vinegar or the juice of bitter orange, it can be used to season fish, chicken and meats. Try adding it to your ground beef mix to make tasty hamburgers! When mixed into oil or lard, Achiotina can be used to add colour to paella and other dishes.
Whole Achiote seeds and ground Achiote powder will last quite a long time if stored in an airtight container, away from heat and light, the paste can be stored in the cupboard the same way and the paste-cake, wrapped tightly in plastic and stored in the fridge.
To make your own Achiote Paste, take a look at this recipe from Chili Pepper Madness or this Recado Rojo recipe from whats4eats, then try your hand at making your very own Yucatan Cochinita Pibil with these recipes: here’s one from Kiwilimón or this one from Simply Recipes.
Have fun and experiment!