Annatto, 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 a flavoring. Its scent is described as "slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg" and flavor as "slightly sweet and peppery".

Annatto is produced from the reddish pulp which surrounds the seed of the achiote ("Bixa orellana" L.). It is used in many cheeses (e.g., Cheddar, Red Leicester, and Brie), margarine, butter, rice, smoked fish and custard powder.

Annatto is commonly found in Latin America and Caribbean cuisines as both a coloring agent and for flavoring. Central and South American natives use the seeds to make a body paint, and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote is sometimes called the "lipstick-tree".

In Venezuela, annatto (called locally 'onoto') is used in the preparation of hallacas, perico, and other traditional dishes.

In Brazil, both annatto (the product) and the tree ("Bixa orellana" L.) are called Urucum and the product itself may also be called Colorau.

In Cuba and other Caribbean islands, both fruit and tree are popularly called Bija (pronounced bee-ha) instead of Bixa.

In the Philippines, it is called "atsuete" and is used as food coloring in traditional dishes.

It is a major ingredient in the popular spice blend "Sazón" made by Goya Foods.

Use as a food coloring

The annatto seed contains 4.5-5.5% pigments, which consists of 70-80% bixin. [ [ Executive Summary Bixin, National Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences] ] .

As a food additive, annatto has the E number E160b. The fat soluble part of the crude extract is called bixin, the water soluble part is called norbixin, and both share the same E number as annatto.

In the United States, annatto extract is listed as a color additive “exempt from certification” ( [] Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations part 73) and is commonly considered to be a natural color. The yellowish orange color is produced by the compounds bixin and norbixin, which are classified as xanthophylls, a type of carotenoid. However, unlike beta-carotene, another well-known carotenoid, they do not have the correct chemical structures to be vitamin A precursors. [ [ Natural Colors: A Shade More Healthy, Lynn A. Kuntz, Food Product Design] ] The more norbixin in an annatto color, the more yellow it is; a higher level of bixin gives it a more reddish shade. Unless an acid-proof version is used, it takes on a pink shade at low pH.

Allergies to annatto

Annatto has been linked with many cases of food-related allergies, and is the only natural food coloring believed to cause as many allergic-type reactions as artificial food coloring. [ [ Food Intolerance Network Factsheet] ] Because it is a natural colorant, companies using annatto may label their products "all natural" or "no artificial colors". However, consumers with food dye sensitivity or intolerance may wish to avoid products containing annatto.

Coeliacs (people diagnosed with Coeliac Disease) or those with Gluten Intolerance may have a reaction to Annatto similar tothat of glutenFact|There appears to be no evidence for this|date=August 2008.


References and sources for further reading

*The Herb Book, John Lust (Bantam Books, New York, USA, 1984)
*Cooking With Spices, Carolyn Heal & Michael Allsop (David & Charles, Vermont, USA 1983)
*The Book of Spices, F. Rosengarten Jr. (Livingston Publishing Co. , Penn., USA, 1969)
* [ FAO: Major Colourants and Dyestuffs Entering International Trade, Annatto Seed and Its Extracts]

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  • annatto — [ə nät′ō, änät′ō] n. [of WInd orig.] a dye of reddish yellow made from the pulp around the seeds of a tropical dicotyledonous tree (Bixa orellana, family Bixaceae): it is used for coloring butter, cheese, varnishes, etc …   English World dictionary

  • Annatto — Samen des Annattostrauches Annatto (E 160b) ist die Bezeichnung für die als Gewürz verwendeten und rötlich gelb färbenden Samen des Orleansstrauches (botanischer Name: Bixa orellana). Andere Namen sind Achote, Bixin, Orlean, Ruku, Anatto; die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • annatto — noun Etymology: Carib annoto tree producing annatto Date: 1629 1. a yellowish red dyestuff made from the pulp around the seeds of a tropical American tree (Bixa orellana) 2. the tree from which annatto is derived; also its dried seed used to… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • annatto — n. small evergreen tree that grows in tropical America and has heart shaped leaves and white or pink flowers; seeds of the annatto tree (used for their coloring effect or as seasoning in food); yellowy reddish dye made from annatto seeds …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Annatto — Annotto An*not to ([a^]n*n[o^]t t[ o]), Arnotto Ar*not to ([aum]r*n[o^]t t[ o]), n. [Perh. the native name.] A red or yellowish red dyeing material, prepared from the pulp surrounding the seeds of a tree ({Bixa orellana}) belonging to the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Annatto — Roucou Roucou …   Wikipédia en Français

  • annatto — /euh nat oh, euh nah toh/, n., pl. annattos. 1. a small tree, Bixa orellana, of tropical America. 2. Also, arnatto. a yellowish red dye obtained from the pulp enclosing the seeds of this tree, used for coloring fabrics, butter, varnish, etc. Also …   Universalium

  • annatto — [ə natəʊ] (also anatto) noun (plural annattos) 1》 an orange red dye obtained from the seed coat of a tropical fruit, used for colouring foods. 2》 the tropical American tree from which annatto is obtained. [Bixa orellana.] Origin C17: from Carib …   English new terms dictionary

  • annatto — dažinė urlija statusas T sritis vardynas apibrėžtis Urlijinių šeimos dažinis, vaistinis augalas (Bixa orellana), paplitęs Šiaurės ir Pietų Amerikoje. Naudojamas maisto dažikliams gaminti, iš jo gaunamas biksinas. atitikmenys: lot. Bixa orellana… …   Lithuanian dictionary (lietuvių žodynas)

  • annatto — n. (also anatta, anatto) an orange red dye from the pulp of a tropical fruit, used for colouring foods. Etymology: Carib name of the fruit tree * * * annatto, annotta, annotto varr. anatta …   Useful english dictionary