Annatto: a beneficial seed, Uses, Side Effects, and Precautions

You might have seen reddish or yellow color in Caribbean cuisines; this is nothing else but an annatto.

Annatto, Common name “lipstick plant” or “poor man’s saffron” and botanical name Bixa Orellana. The seeds formed in pods of Bixa are famous all over the world but in different names: achiote, jarak, atsuete, Orellana, arnato. Fruit is heart-shaped covered with hair; when opened, there lie beautiful red seeds of annatto.

Hairy fruit along with pyramid-shaped seeds

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Ten surprising benefits and uses of annatto seeds:

Flavonoids, carotenoids, and alkaloids present in annatto seeds exhibit a wide range of activities. Many of its benefits are due to these compounds, which I enlisted as follows:

1: Annatto as coloring agent:

 The specific red color of these seeds is due to carotenoids present in seed coating. More Bixin (chemical present in the pericarp of seeds), more orange color, and more norbixin chemical tilts towards yellow color.

You may have seen yellow color in stews or soups in South America or Filipino cuisines. It is due to annatto seeds. In the Philippines, people use annatto seeds paste in marinating chicken as it makes it more flavourful.

In coconut, it is slightly yellowed to give a light yellow color.

2: Use in the dairy industry:

There is no stable alternative to annatto in the dairy industry, mainly used in ice creams, margarine, and the cheese industry.

3: Use in bakery items:

Many companies use annatto seeds in bakery items like waffles. You can use it as a healthy diet source. 

4: Alternative source of vitamin B:

A known fact is that our bodies don’t produce vitamin E, vital for our body. We have to take it as a supplement. You will be surprised to learn that annatto seeds are the primary source of vitamin E. 

Tocotrienols in large amounts, present in annatto seeds. This chemical is a form of naturally occurring vitamin E, present in extracts that exhibits highly neuroprotective activity. 

5: Use for healthy skin:

The use of annatto on skin dates back to ancient times. People used it to color the face and body with insect repellent.

The antioxidant activity of annatto enhances the production of healthy cells and tissues reducing damaged skin. 

Annatto paste reduces wrinkles and inflammation on the skin. However, the ancient people used it as sun cream. Peroxides present in seeds prevent DNA mutation in U.V rays.

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6: Use against diseases:

 Rich in fiber, it may:

  • Boosts digestion and decreases heartburn.
  • Suitable for stomach activity. 
  • A cure for cancer. As Bixin is an antioxidant, it may save tissues from damage due to cancer drugs. 
  • Increases eye health, and decreases the chances of cataracts.

Not only annatto seeds but the whole plant has its benefits. We use leaves as a tea drink known to cure hepatitis, fever, and dysentery.

7: Good for bones:

It has calcium in it, hence suitable for weak bones, increasing durability. Recent studies have shown the effectiveness of tocotrienols for women in post-menopause, a significant component of these beneficial seeds in bone strength.

8: In the Cosmetic industry:

Famous as a lipstick tree, we use annatto to give beautiful shades to lips. It is also used in shampoos to give your hair smoothness. Hair dyes that give attractive colors to hair. 

9: Annatto as Herbal medicine:

People use it as herbal medicine to treat many disorders in the form of a drink. In Asian culture, these beneficial seeds are an essential part of Ayurveda.

10: Beneficial as anti-parasite:

Anti-parasitic activity is also present in annatto seeds. It is 100% proven. Experimental use of annatto on fish shows removing the outer membranes of helminths (a parasite), causing their death.

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How to harvest the annatto plant:

These plants were founded in central and South America. It is harvested mainly in tropical countries like Mexico, Sri Lanka, India, Brazil, Peru, etc.

It can be grown both on a commercial scale and in small gardens. The soil must be organically rich and well-drained; the sun is a must. Before planting in soil, seedlings are grown in polythene bags in the nursery. These bags contain a mixture of soil, sand, and manure. The monsoon season (June to September) is ideal for farmers to spread these prepared seeds in the soil. 

The condition of capsules decides the harvesting stage. After being ready, they spread them on spreadsheets. It takes around one week to get them dried. Once dried, they remove the seeds from pods. These seeds are then collected in bags and stored. Indias use this method of harvesting.

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Annatto seeds in powder form:

Annatto in powder form


How many times have you used yellow or orange food color to enhance the color of your food? It comes from nothing else than annatto seeds. It makes food visually pleasing. If you have great taste buds, you will like its sweet and peppery taste. Annatto color seasoning is part of many Mexican and American cuisines.

Do you know one more amazing historical fact? Before being used as a coloring agent, people used it as body paint for its healing powers.

Like the Mayans, many tribes of ancient times used these beneficial seeds as a blood symbol, and it holds a very sacred place there. 

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Annatto seeds in oil form:

 Achiote oil, oil of annatto seeds, is made by simmering them in any oil. But on slow flame. Within a few minutes, the oil is ready to be used. Some uses and benefits of achiote oil are below:

•        Indian and Mexican culture, people used to flavor and give color to many foods.

•        Oil is used in the butter and cheese industry and offers many shades of yellow to cheese.

Where to buy these beneficial seeds:

Although, these are readily available in supermarkets. In America, you can find them in Spanish stores and Asian stores. You can also order annatto seeds or powder online from amazon or any other online shop.


Annatto powder in the online store

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How to preserve or store them:

You can use these beneficial seeds for years. There are two simple tips:

  • Please place them in airtight containers.
  • Keep them away from light.

Substitute of annatto seeds:

Hibiscus powder

Hibiscus powder, beet powder, paprika powder, and turmeric are all substitutes for annatto seed powder. Although, these spices or herbs will not give the same taste and color. Turmeric spice is tilted towards yellow color and has a powerful aroma. The Asian people use it in their cuisines

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Precautions in the use of annatto seeds:

Although incredibly beneficial seeds, there are some precautions for using them:

  • It can’t be used in soft drinks in Europe according to their legislation.
  • If you are new to cooking and learning, then don’t put whole annatto seeds in curry. It will take the seeds hours to soften.
  • Some people get allergic to it. If you are allergic to any color, then avoid it.
  • If you have diabetes, please do not use an annatto because your health care provider can observe your fluctuations in blood glucose levels. People should not use it along with diabetic medicines.
  • You should avoid annatto if you have scheduled your surgery. It is admissible not to use annatto two weeks before and after surgery.
  • It also decreases the effectiveness of some medicines. As medicines break down in the liver, it alters the breaking rate of chemicals in treatments.

Stability of annatto:

On a commercial level, due to its stability, it is 2nd most used dye. It is stable at high temperatures and other physical conditions.


For centuries till now, the world is exploring its uses. Annatto is a fantastic plant, with lots of benefits in many industries. Many of its properties make it of great worth commercially, and in the medical field, there is room for a lot of research. But we must know that natural things also have side effects. Everything comes with its pros and cons. 

Where to buy:

NOTE: Please, seek advice from your health practitioner before adding these herbs and spices to your diet because some herbs and spices might contraindicate with prescription medication.



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