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Recipe for How to Make Annatto or Achiote Oil, Includes Replacement and Substitute

Updated on July 11, 2013
Achiote or Annatto pods with seeds
Achiote or Annatto pods with seeds

Annatto oil is made with the seeds of achiote trees, which are found in the tropical regions of the Americas. Annatto is also called achiote or roucou. The seeds are used to produce an orange food coloring and slightly nutty flavored oil.

These seeds are used in Latin America as a replacement for saffron in certain Spanish dishes. They have also been used as hair color for centuries by the Tsachilas, or Colorados, a coastal indigenous group of Ecuador.

Replacement for Annatto Oil

If you want to make annatto oil but can't find the seeds, just mix 2 tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil with 1 tablespoon of ground annatto or ground sweet paprika.

Annatto oil is bright red and clear.
Annatto oil is bright red and clear.

Instructions for making Annatto Oil

Heat 2 tablespoons of annatto seeds in 1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir occasionally until the oil turns orange. Store in a small jar or container.

yellow rice, colored with annatto oil
yellow rice, colored with annatto oil

How to use annatto oil

You can literally substitute annatto oil for any other type of oil in all of your cooking. Sautee raw dry rice in a tablespoon of it before cooking to get a pleasant yellow-orange color on your plate, or use it to make Ecuadorian llapingachos by following the recipe link below.

A Tsachila or Colorado with traditional hairstyle and dress.
A Tsachila or Colorado with traditional hairstyle and dress.

The Tsáchila or Colorado Indians

The men of this ethnic group traditionally wear a unique hairstyle. They use the seeds from the annatto trees to color their hair and shape it. This was believed to protect them from smallpox during the Spanish invasion. The early Spanish colonists called them Colorados, meaning "colored red" because they would cover their hair and skin with the annatto dye. In recent years, they have abandoned this traditional hairstyle for the most part-- bus drivers hated those red stains they left on the seats! However, you can still see their traditional hairstyle in certain parts of Ecuador.

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