Achiote Paste (Annatto) Recipe

Achiote seeds and paste
Left: Annato seeds inside their pod. Right: Commercially packaged achiote paste. Photos: Left (c) Rinadlod Wurglitsch on Flickr, Creative Commons license cc by 2.0; Right (c) Robin Grose
  • 15 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 2/3 cup paste (4 portions)
Ratings (6)

Achiote paste is made with annatto seeds, cumin, pepper, coriander, oregano, cloves, and garlic. It can be used as a sauce, marinade or rub in many delicious traditional Mexican dishes including cochinita pibil, chorizos. longanizas, tacos al pastor, and many others.

It's not difficult to make homemade achiote paste if you follow the instructions below.

What You'll Need

  • 1/4 cup annatto seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1/2 cup bitter orange juice (or 1/4 cup regular orange juice plus 1/4 cup Mexican lime juice or 1/3 cup white vinegar)

How to Make It

  1. Grind the annatto, coriander seeds, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and cloves in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. (You also can use a coffee grinder to do this, but as it will leave the seasoning flavor behind, make sure you do not plan to use the grinder for coffee again.)

  2. Place the ground spices and the salt, the garlic, and the bitter orange juice in a blender and process until it is smooth.

  1. Store your achiote paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use as instructed in your recipe.

Note: To use your homemade achiote paste as a general meat marinade, rub the mixture onto chicken, pork or fish and let it marinate for 4 to 6 hours. Cook or grill as usual.

More About Achiote

Annatto seeds, known in Mexico as achiote, come from a tree thought to have originated in tropical South America. They have been used for centuries by people in Central and South America and the Caribbean to give a yellowish or bright red color to human skin (as in body paint), cloth, and edibles.

While achiote is important in the regional cuisines of southeast Mexico (mainly in the states of Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca and Veracruz), the mild-flavored condiment is known throughout the country due to the widespread distribution of commercially prepared achiote paste.

Blocks of achiote paste can be found at Hispanic grocery stores or in the international aisle of large supermarkets in the United States. These need to be diluted with water or broth in order to be used for cooking. Follow the instructions on the package or in the recipe you are using.

Did You Know?

  • The word achiote comes from the Nahuatl word axiotl, meaning "red tincture" or "red dye."
  • Achiote seeds were sacred to the ancient Maya, who used them much more for ritual purposes than as a foodstuff. Their red color suggested blood. Mayas combined achiote with cacao and other seeds to make a ritual drink for ceremonial purposes.
  • In the 16th century, annatto was used as a dye in the painting of Mexican manuscripts (codices).
  • In addition to Latin American and Caribbean cuisines, annatto seeds are used in Jamaican and Filipino cooking and as a coloring agent for cheeses and other foods in Europe and the United States.
  • In addition to achiote paste, you can make achiote oil for cooking as well.

Edited by Robin Grose