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Annatto Seed is a colouring spice that is also known as Roucou or Achiote [1]. More fancy names include Dragon's Blood and Lipstick Tree Seeds. These names hint at the fact that annatto is best known for its colour, for example it is the orange in red Leicester cheese.

Annatto does have a flavour and aroma - often described as a mixture slightly between pepper or paprika and nutmeg, with a certain muskiness. However, these flavours do not come through when used in the amounts needed only to colour your foods.

Annatto is often used in Mexican and Caribbean cooking. Examples of using annatto include: Jamaican salt cod or achee; and Mexican achiote paste. Annatto should also be used to colour Chinese barbecued pork, rather than artificial colours.

More typically, annatto is used to colour oils or simply to colour water. In the Caribbean and Vietnam, cooks, will fry the annatto seeds in oil to colour it, then the seeds are discarded and the coloured fats used for cooking. Alternatively, you can soak them in hot water, much like saffron to obtain a coloured liquid, which can then be used to add colour to rice, stock or stews.

Nutritional Data

Energy Value 199 kCal / 822 kJ
Fat 1.8
- saturates 0.4
- mono-unsaturates 0.3
- polyunsaturates 1.0
Carbohydrate 17.4
- sugar 2.8
- polyols 1.0
- starch n/a
Salt 0.2
Fibre n/a
Protein 10.0

These can be compared to reference intakes, but these have not been shown in the table above, because they are not particularly useful for spices.


  1. Katzer, G. (n.d.) Annatto (Bixa orellana L), Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. Retrieved 28 October 2015.

Further Reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN 9781465435989.