Annatto seeds come from the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The seeds have been used for hundreds of years for a variety of purposes, especially as a dye, medicine, and ingredient in many foods.
Annatto’s flavor can be described as earthy, musky, and slightly peppery. Some may detect a sweet, floral hint of nutmeg.
Annatto is the natural pigment that gives butter, margarine, and cheese its yellow hue. Without the addition of this natural dye, these foods would be a pale creamy tint. During the 1800s, annatto was used to give cheddar cheese its distinctive orange color. It is also used to dye meats, smoked fish, beverages, soups, stews, and spice rubs, and is added to many tandoori cooking recipes, too.
Annatto seeds are usually steeped in oil prior to adding to recipes, rather than adding the seeds whole. The dried seeds can be soaked in hot water until they give off their color, or you can fry them for 5 minutes in a neutral oil -such as canola or grapeseed- and strain it off and refrigerate.
Its flavor profile pairs well with rice, grains, beans, vegetables, chicken, fish, or turkey.