What Is Annatto?
Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects
Annatto (also known as “brown” or “black”) is a plant native to South America. It grows naturally in tropical regions of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. Its seeds are used in many African countries such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Other uses include dyeing fabrics in India; making paper pulp from it; and extracting oil from it for use as a cooking ingredient.
The plant is cultivated commercially in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Islands. There are two main varieties: annatto (Latin) and carob (Greek). Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Carob contains less calories than annatto but is not as rich in nutrients.
In addition to its culinary uses, annatto has been used medicinally since ancient times. It was used in the treatment of rheumatism, malaria, and other diseases. In modern times, it has been used to treat psoriasis and eczema.
Annatto is derived from the seeds of a tree called the annato or annaba tree. It is one of several species of the genus Annonaceae. They grow wild throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.
How Does Annatto Work?
Annatto contains many nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, several B-complex vitamins, and minerals such as iron, phosphorus and potassium. The tree grows wild in several tropical regions. It is used to produce a natural food coloring that is used in cheese and butter. Annatto is what gives cheddar cheese its orange color.
Natural butter colorants are made by using the annatto seed; it is also used to color cheese and other food products. Annatto gets its coloring from natural chemicals called bixin and norbixin.
Annatto seeds are popular in a variety of cuisines in Africa, South America, the Caribbean and East Asia. In Jamaica it is an ingredient in a popular curry. A paste made from the seeds is used in African cooking to color and flavor dishes such as soups, stews, rice, couscous and sauces. In Jamaica it is added to peas porridge and rice. It also goes well with eggs, fish and goat.
The plant is known in English as annatto, annatoe, achiote, azzaiti, azzatti, azzattie, azzattier, roucou, achuete and tournesol. The fruit is known as jurubeba in Brazil, where it is grown commercially for its seeds.
Annatto is the seed of a slender, orange-red fruit that grows in clusters in a long, spindly pod. It grows wild in tropical areas around the world. It is native to South America but is now grown throughout the Caribbean islands and in many other areas. Annatto is mainly cultivated in tropical regions because it requires a great amount of heat and humidity to thrive.
Annatto is typically ground before use and added as an ingredient to foods such as rice, stews, soups, eggs, fish and sauces. It can also be used as a natural food coloring for butter or cooking oils. It takes about 12 to 18 months for the tree to produce mature seeds. The seeds are picked by hand, dried in the sun and then cleaned, after which they can be ground into a fine powder for use.
The annatto tree is one of the slowest trees to grow in the world, reaching full maturity after the age of ten. This makes it an increasingly uncommon sight; some farmers and gardeners today are taking efforts to grow it in their gardens for its many uses.
The fruit grows on a slender tree with bright green leaves that grows up to 15 feet tall. The fruit itself is a long, skinny pod that hangs in clusters from the branches. The pod is covered with a rough greyish-brown exterior and contains a single seed that is covered in a bright orange pulp.
The fruit is gathered when it is ripe, typically beginning to turn yellow or red. The pods are dried in the sun or cooked to soften them before the seeds are extracted by hand. The seeds are then dried again to make them easier to store and transport.
Annatto is a common ingredient in dishes throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean islands, West Africa, and several other tropical areas around the world. In Jamaica it is popular as a thickener for soups and stews. It can be eaten on its own or, as in the case of Jamaica, used to create a curry-type dish. It also goes well with lentils and coconut-based dishes.
In Central and South America it is used to flavor rice and other grain-based dishes. It is a common addition to the famous Colombian arepas, which are cornmeal cakes. It is also found in many Caribbean recipes such as curried goat and rice.
The most common use of the annatto seed is as a natural food coloring. It is especially popular for butter and cheese, lending these products a deep orange hue. In some countries such as Germany, it is illegal to use annatto to color cheese; only synthetic colors are permitted. However, in many other countries it is considered a natural alternative to synthetic coloring.
Annatto can also be used to preserve meats and other foods. It is a common addition to fish and shrimp paste in many Asian countries. The seed is extremely high in fat, containing oils that are solid at room temperature and liquid when warmed. This makes it useful in tropical climates where refrigeration may not be readily available.
In many Caribbean countries annatto is used to make a type of butter called kechap manis. The butter is extremely pungent and is usually only used for cooking. It is sometimes added to various food stuffs such as breads or pastries, imparting a distinct yellow hue and a slightly nutty taste.
In some Asian countries annatto is used in the production of certain types of alcohol, most notably whisky. The seeds are typically soaked in alcohol before they are strained out to give the drink a light orange hue.
Annatto is found in two main forms on the market: as whole seeds and as an oil.