Annatto Seeds - Food Gypsy

Tastes of Mexico – Annatto Seeds

Published On July 21, 2010 | By Gypsy | Central America, Gastronomy, On The Street, Travel

What are these fuzzy, nutty things?  I asked my guide as we toured the tiny towns of Central Yucatan.  Innately curious, I’d seen them gathered by women in baskets and something told me they were headed for the kitchen. 

Annatto seeds, sometimes called Roucou, is a derivative of the achiote trees of tropical regions of the Americas, used to produce a red food coloring and also as flavouring.  Its scent is slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg and flavor as slightly sweet and peppery.   

Known as “a poor man’s saffron” annatto is often used for its vibrant, deep and somewhat seductive reddish colour.

In Mexico, you find annatto colouring stews, sauces, and tacos.  In the Yucatán, it’s combined with other spices to make brick red seasoning pastes: achiote paste (annatto, Mexican oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, garlic, and salt) and adobo sauce (made with tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, salt and annatto).

I was later directed to a little butcher, who once a week pit-roasts an entire pig, rubbed liberally with simple annatto based paste in his backyard.  Cooked low and slow, 6 to 8 hours, over hot coals, the result is not as spicy as chili, the nutty flavor lingers at the back of your tongue.

With the help of his daughter, a canister of spices for “sniff and tell” and an delightful game of charades, he shared the secret to his annatto paste and now I’ll share it with you.
Annatto, a new taste for your kitchen.


Annatto Rub for Pork

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons annatto seeds
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lime juice

Generously rub over pork roast, or chops.  Cook at low heat 250*F (130*C) until cooked through.  For an added kick, double the rub recipe, set half aside add a 1/3 cup of apple butter or crab-apple jelly, mix well and baste over pork in final stages of cooking.  DELICIOUS!

(Gypsy note: In Canada & the US, Annatto can be found in specialty health food stores, Asian supermarkets and Latin specialty stores.  In a pinch – substitute Paprika.)


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About The Author

"Gypsy" is not my real name." A freelance food & travel writer & photographer based in Aylmer, Quebec. Corinna Horton trained at Le Cordon Bleu, spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn, and is currently between big, shiny kitchens as she focuses on family and what's next in this delicious life.

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