Annatto seed is one of the most overlooked spices in the United States. On the back of labels, you can find tiny portions of annatto toward the bottom of many products. However, it is rarely utilized to its fullest potential both in taste and the health benefits it gives. It is a popular ingredient in many South American cultures for different types of sauces and dishes.
One of annatto’s most popular uses is as a dye because of its bold red pigment. As a result of its color and shape, it is sometimes referred to as “lipstick tree”. Despite it being inexpensive and versatile, annatto remains in relative obscurity. Here are three reasons you should utilize this potent spice in your life.
1. As a Natural Coloring Agent
While most people won’t use annatto for this reason, traditionally it’s been one the most common uses. With so many artificial dyes on the market, annatto is a great natural source to use on a variety of items. Cheeses, frosting, pastes, cakes, butter, soaps, clothing, and much more. It gives a pleasant scent to textiles and adds anti-microbial properties.
The shade of the seed as a dye can range from yellow, to bright orange, to red, depending the amount used and the type of material. In order to make a proper dye, follow these steps. First, soak around 100 grams of annatto seeds with 10 grams of plain club soda in water for 8-12 hours. Next, use a blender to break down the seeds. This helps make the dye more concentrated. Finally, simmer on low heat for about an hour and strain the liquid.
2. The Health Benefits
The health benefits of annatto are intriguing and remain in obscurity. While spices such as cinnamon, clove, turmeric, and ginger receive mainstream praise and attention, other spices like annatto are left behind. As a result, people are missing out on some important benefits of many different spices like sumac, annatto, and others.
Annatto seeds contain different minerals and nutrients that help protect the body. For diabetes, spices like annatto, clove, turmeric, and lemongrass are extremely valuable to use in cooking. Research shows a sustained decrease in glucose levels of rats. Instead of the usual effect of lowering glucose for a couple hours, annatto seed caused a prolonged effect. This is an extremely valuable attribute with high potential. Although this research is on rats, it is still very significant because of the possible sustained effect.
Annatto has anti-microbial properties that may help the body defend against different types of pathogens. It may also have applications against foodborne illnesses. The nutrients help to promote good digestion and absorption of nutrients. The thing that makes annatto unique is the carotenoid and tocotrienol content that it contains. Tocotrienols are rare vitamin E compounds that have many different benefits for the eyes, heart, brain, liver, and body. Annatto happens to have the highest ratio of these unique compounds in the world.
In addition, the powerful pigments help protect eye health. These carotenoids may decrease the chances of conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts. When used as a paste, annatto may even help to speed healing, cleanse wounds, protect against infection, and reduce the appearance of scars! Lastly, annatto seeds can improve liver health, skin health, and may even help treat gonorrhea. Pretty powerful benefits for a little humble seed!
3. The Flavor
Annatto seed has a unique flavor not found in other spices. When combined with other flavors, it imparts a subtle earthy, peppery, even smokey taste in certain dishes. It is extremely adaptable in the number of culinary applications. Annatto mixes well with smokey flavors, paprika, cumin, turmeric, garlic, saffron, and more. It’s not ideal to use as a stand-alone flavor or within more bitter dishes.