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Annatto: Herb of September

By Karen Kennedy, HSA Educator

Annatto WallpaperIn keeping with its educational mission, the Herb Society of America names an Herb of the Month throughout the calendar.

The herb for September 2018 is annatto. It is an orange-red dye or colorant, flavoring for food and healing agent derived from the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana)The tree is an evergreen native to tropic and subtropic zones of the Americas. Annatto is often found at ethnic grocers or online.

  • Annatto is available powdered or pre-ground, whole seeds, paste, blocks and flavored oil.
  • It is commonly used in Mexican cooking, especially in the Yucatan; it is also used in Caribbean and Filipino dishes. Aztecs used it to enhance the color of hot chocolate.
  • In large amounts the flavor has been described as earthy, slightly peppery and sweet. Used in small amounts as a colorant it has no discernable flavor.
  • Foods colored with the pigment range from yellow to deep orange. They include chorizo sausage, cheese (like cheddar and American), smoked fish, popcorn, oil, butter, margarine, rice as well as processed products like snacks and breakfast cereals
  • The herb can be found in skincare products past and present. Historically rainforest tribes and natives of the Caribbean used it as body paint. They called the plant “the lipstick tree” because of this.
  • Antimicrobial and high in antioxidants and carotenoids, the paint was also used as a sunscreen, and bug repellent.