Annatto: This is how the seeds of the Achiote tree are used

Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / JoaoBOliver

Annatto, also called achiote, is a natural dye with numerous uses. We’ll explain where Annatto is used.

Annatto – bright dye from nature

Annatto is a natural dye made from the seeds of the Achiote tree. In German, the tree is also used as an Orleans shrub or butter color designated. Annatto is chemically a carotenoid and consists of the compounds bixin and norbixin. As a colorant, it gives numerous foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals a bright yellow to red-brown color. On the list of ingredients you will find Annatto under the E number E160b.

Annatto – this is how the dye is used

Young annatto fruits on the tree
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / jrperes)
Young annatto fruits on the tree

The Achiote shrub originally comes from South America, but is now also cultivated in parts of Southeast Asia. The triangular seeds of the exotic shrub have a reddish brown color, which makes them a good natural dye. For coloring, the Achiote seeds are either boiled out or ground to a fine powder. Most often, according to the Consumer initiative not the pure dye, but a diluted extract application.

Annatto and its components Bixin and Norbixin give numerous products a yellow color:

  • Spices
  • Sausage and cheese products (e.g. certain orange cheddar varieties)
  • Nibbles (e.g. chips)
  • Ice cream
  • Ready-made desserts
  • cosmetics
  • drug
  • textiles

Tip: At Easter you can do it naturally with Annatto coloring Easter eggs. Whole seeds and annatto powder are commercially available (e.g. at **Amazon).

Use of Annatto in the kitchen

Often colored with Annatto: Cheddar
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / bhumann34)
Often colored with Annatto: Cheddar

Asian and South American cuisine in particular use annatto powder to color dishes. The seed powder gives dishes an earthy touch that is light on pepper remind. For example, the production of hot achiote oil or an achiote paste is popular.

The coloring properties of the Orleans seeds have also long been known among primitive people. They use them, for example, for traditional body painting or for the production of insect repellents and medicines.

Annatto – meaning for health

Achiote seeds provide bright colors.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / Tongo)
Achiote seeds provide bright colors.

The substances Bixin and Norbixin in Annatto are considered carotenoids to be harmless to health according to the consumer initiative. It has not yet been proven whether Annatto has positive effects on health.

The natural dye Annatto is also an additive for E160b Organic products approved, like the consumer protection portal Codechek explained.

In rare cases, Annatto can trigger allergic reactions on the skin, according to the consumer initiative. To be on the safe side, you should first test food and cosmetics with the fabric for their tolerance and always use them moderately.

Read more on Utopia:

  • Azo dyes: that’s why they’re critical
  • Tartrazine (E102): Why the dye is critical
  • Carotene: do they really have to be capsules and tablets?

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