Bixa orellana

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Achiote pj.JPG
Achiote seed pods
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Bixaceae
Genus: Bixa
Species: B. orellana
Binomial name
Bixa orellana
  • Bixa tinctaria Salisb.
  • Orellana orellana (L.) Kuntze
  • Bixa orleana Noronha
  • Bixa americana Poir.
  • Bixa purpurea Sweet
  • Bixa odorata Ruiz & Pav. ex G.Don
  • Bixa acuminata Bojer
  • Orellana americana (Poir.) Kuntze
  • Bixa upatensis Ram.Goyena
  • Bixa katangensis Delpierre

Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The name derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, āchiotl /aːˈt͡ʃiot͡ɬ/. It is also known as Aploppas, and its original Tupi name uruku. It is best known as the source of the natural pigment annatto, produced from the fruit. The plant bears pink flowers and bright red spiny fruits which contain red seeds. The fruits dry and harden to brown capsules.

It is of particular commercial value in the United States because the Food and Drug Administration considers annatto colorants made from it to be "exempt of certification". It is used as a colorant and condiment for traditional dishes such as cochinita pibil, rice, chicken in achiote and caldo de olla. It is also used to add color to butter, cheese, popcorn, drinks, and breads. The main commercial producers are countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and also India and Sri Lanka, where it was introduced by the Spanish in the 17th century. Production statistics are not usually available, and would not provide a reliable guide to international trade since many of the producing countries utilize significant quantities domestically (e.g. Brazil is a large producer and consumer, needing additional imports). Annual world production of dried annatto seed at the beginning of the 21st century was estimated at about 10,000 tons of which 7,000 tons enters international trade. Peru is the largest exporter of annatto seed, annually about 4,000 tons; Brazil the largest producer with about 5,000 tons. Kenya exports annually about 1,500 tons annatto seed and extracts and is the second largest exporter, after Peru. Côte d'Ivoire and Angola are also exporters.[2]


The inedible fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain annatto, also called bixin. It can be extracted by stirring the seeds in water. It is used to color food products, such as cheeses, fish, and salad oil. Sold as a paste or powder for culinary use, mainly as a color, it is known as "achiote," "annatto," "bijol," or "pimentão doce." It is a main ingredient in the Yucatecan spice mixture recado rojo, or "achiote paste." The seeds are ground and used as a subtly flavored and colorful additive in Latin American, Jamaican, Chamorro and Filipino cuisine. Annatto is growing in popularity as a natural alternative to synthetic food coloring compounds. While it has a distinct flavor of its own, it can be used to color and flavor rice instead of the much more expensive saffron. It is an important ingredient of cochinita pibil, the spicy pork dish popular in Mexico. It is also a key ingredient in the drink tascalate from Chiapas, Mexico.

In several European countries (e.g. Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) the pigment, extracted by solvent or boiling the seeds in oil, have been and often still is used as color in margarines and several other foods. The pigment has E-number E160b. The seeds are collected from wild-growing bushes or from plantations, in Latin America, Africa (e.g. Kenya) and Asia. However, since there is no strong organization promoting the use of annatto, the color beta carotene, which is more expensive, has pushed the natural pigment out of many applications.

Achiote Blossom

Culinary uses[edit]

Achiote paste, favored in Yucatán, Oaxacan, and Belizean cuisine, is made from the slightly bitter, earthy flavored, red annatto seeds, mixed with other spices and ground into a paste. Achiote is a distinctly colored and flavored mainstay of Mexican and Belizean kitchens.

The paste is dissolved in either lemon juice, water, oil or vinegar to create a marinade, and marinated or rubbed directly upon meat. The meat is then grilled, baked, barbecued or broiled. Sometimes it is added to corn dough to create a zesty flavor and color in empanadas and red tamales.

Sazón means "seasoning" in Spanish. In Puerto Rico, it also refers to a seasoned salt that is commonly used while cooking meats and fish. It is made by crushing annatto seeds with cumin and coriander seeds. Garlic powder, dry cilantro and salt are then added.

Ethnomedical uses[edit]

The achiote has long been used by American Indians to make body paint, especially for the lips, which is the origin of the plant's nickname, lipstick tree. The use of the dye in the hair by men of the Tsáchila of Ecuador is the origin of their usual Spanish name, the Colorados.

In developing countries, particularly in Colombia, it is used in folk medicine and natural remedies for the treatment of common infections. Achiote is among those herbs used in Colombian folk medicine to treat infections of microbial origin.[3] Adding to the known health benefits exerted by carotenoids, a bioactive sesquiterpene from achiote exhibited moderate anti-fungal activity.[4] Extracts of the leaves of achiote possess antimicrobial activity against Gram positive microorganisms, with maximum activity against Bacillus pumilus.[5] Achiote leaves have been employed to treat malaria and Leishmaniasis. In traditional medicine of India different parts of the plant are used as diuretic, laxative, antibilious, antiemetic and astringent agents, as blood purifier, in jaundice, in dysentery, and externally as scar-preventive.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. ^ Jansen, P.C.M. (2005). Jansen, P.C.M.; Cardon, D., eds. "Bixa orellana L.". PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. PROTA. Archived from the original on 20 Nov 2008. Retrieved 5 Oct 2014. 
  3. ^ "Health benefits of Achiote (Bixa orellana)". Herbcyclopedia. Retrieved 14 Dec 2012. 
  4. ^ Raga, Dennis D.; Espiritu, Rafael A.; Shen, Chien-Chang; Ragasa, Consolacion Y. (2010). "A bioactive sesquiterpene from Bixa orellana". Journal of Natural Medicines 65 (1): 206–11. doi:10.1007/s11418-010-0459-9. PMID 20882359. 
  5. ^ Fleischer, T.C; Ameade, E.P.K; Mensah, M.L.K; Sawer, I.K (2003). "Antimicrobial activity of the leaves and seeds of Bixa orellana". Fitoterapia 74 (1–2): 136–8. doi:10.1016/S0367-326X(02)00289-7. PMID 12628409. 
  6. ^ Khare, C.P. (2007). Indian Medicinal Plants. New York: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. ISBN 978-0-387-70638-2.  cited in Wanga, Limei; Waltenbergerb, Birgit; Pferschy-Wenzigc, Eva-Maria et al. (30 July 2014). "Natural product agonists of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ): a review". Biochemical Pharmacology (Elsevier). doi:10.1016/j.bcp.2014.07.018. ISSN 0006-2952. PMC 4212005. PMID 25083916. Retrieved 9 Aug 2014.