|Achiote seed pods|
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Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. Central and South American natives originally used the seeds to make red body paint and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote is sometimes called the lipstick tree.
The tree is best known as the source of annatto, a natural orange-red condiment (also called "achiote" or "bijol") obtained from the waxy arils that cover its seeds. The ground seeds are widely used in traditional dishes in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico; such as cochinita pibil, chicken in achiote and caldo de olla. Annatto and its extracts are also used as an industrial food coloring to add yellow or orange color to many products such as butter, cheese, sausages, cakes, and popcorn.
The species name was given by Linnaeus after the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana, an early explorer of the Amazon River. The name achiote derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, āchiotl [aːˈt͡ʃiot͡ɬ]. It may also be referred to as aploppas, or by its original Tupi name uruku, urucu or urucum ("red color"), which is also used for the body paint prepared from its seeds.
Bixa orellana is a tall shrub to small evergreen tree 20–33 ft (6–10 m) high. It bears clusters of 2 in (5 cm) bright white to pink flowers, resembling single wild roses, appearing at the tips of the branches. The fruits are in clusters: spiky looking red-brown seed pods covered in soft spines. Each pod contains many seeds covered with a thin waxy blood-red aril. When fully mature, the pod dries, hardens, and splits open, exposing the seeds.
Bixa orellana originated in South America but it has spread to many parts of the world. It is grown easily and quickly in frost-free regions, from sub-tropical to tropical climates, and sheltered from cool winds. It prefers year-round moisture, good drainage, and moderately fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. It can be propagated from seed and cuttings. Cutting-grown plants flower at a younger age than seedlings.
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 use 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 enter 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.
Before synthetic dyes revolutionized industry, the tree was planted commercially for the pigment, extracted by solvent or boiling the seeds in oil, which was used to color cheese, margarine, chocolate, fabric and paints. Annatto oil is rich in tocotrienols, beta-carotene, essential oil, saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, flavonoids and vitamin C. It is easily incorporated into creams, sunscreen, and lip balms where it helps to condition hair and protect against ultraviolet rays.
In several European countries (e.g. Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway) that pigment has been and often still is used as color in margarines and several other foods. The seeds are collected from wild-growing bushes or from plantations, in Latin America, Africa (e.g. Kenya), and Asia. However, since no strong organization promotes the use of annatto, the color beta-carotene, which is more expensive, has pushed the natural pigment out of many applications.
Ground B. orellana seeds, often mixed with other seeds or spices, are used in form of paste or powder for culinary use, especially in Latin American, Jamaican, Chamorro, and Filipino cuisines. The coloring and flavoring substances from the aril can also be extracted by heating the seeds in oil or lard, which is then used in cooking. These condiments are used on many dishes and processed foods, such as cheese, butter, soups, gravies and sauces, cured meats, and many more. They are used mainly to impart a yellow to reddish-orange color to the food, but to some extent also for their subtle flavor and aroma. They can be used to color and flavor rice instead of the much more expensive saffron.
A condiment, called sazón ("seasoning" in Spanish), is commonly used in the cuisine of Puerto Rico for meats and fish. Sazón is made from achiote seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, salt, and garlic powder.
Traditional medical uses
The tree was incorporated into the traditional medicine of India, where different parts of the plant are used to treat various disorders, although no treatment has been verified by clinical research.
Achiote has long been used by American Indians to make a bright red paint for the body and hair. Body-painting with urucu remains an important tradition of many Brazilian native tribes. It was reportedly used for body paint among the native Taínos in Borinquen, Puerto Rico. The use of achiote hair dye by men of the Tsáchila of Ecuador is the origin of their Spanish name, the Colorados.
With fruits in Hyderabad, India
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- Van Wyk, Ben-Erik (2005). Food Plants of the World. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc. ISBN 0-88192-743-0