Achiote oil is a very important ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking, as its naturally deep brick color gives a signature orange hue to many of our traditional dishes. The best part of this recipe is that it only takes 2 ingredients to make it!
As a child, I knew it was the holiday season when my dad would whip up achiote oil in preparation for making Puerto Rican pasteles. I’d watch as he got out the achiote seeds from the spice cabinet and pour them into a small saucepan filled with vegetable oil. After gentle simmering in warm oil, the achiote seeds would bubble and ooze their deeply rich red color into the oil. The oil has a gentle peppery scent that would perfume the house. Then he’d strain the oil and we were ready to start making the masa and the pork filling for our pasteles.
What are achiote seeds?
Achiote seeds are the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana), which is native to tropical regions of the Americas. These seeds are also known by various other names, including annatto seeds or simply annatto. Achiote seeds are well-regarded for their natural red-orange pigment and are used in culinary applications for both coloring and flavoring.
What are achiote seeds used for?
The pigment extracted from achiote seeds is called annatto or achiote, and it is used to add color to a variety of dishes, including rice, stews, soups, and sauces.
Achiote seeds have been used for centuries by indigenous cultures in Central and South America not only for culinary purposes but also for traditional medicine and body paint. In addition to their coloring properties, achiote seeds have a slightly peppery and earthy flavor, although they are not typically used for their taste in cooking.
How do you make achiote oil?
To make achiote oil, annatto seeds are typically infused into a neutral oil (such as vegetable or corn oil) by heating them together. The oil takes on the color of the annatto seeds and absorbs their subtle flavor. Once infused, the seeds are usually strained out, leaving behind the colored oil ready for culinary use.
What is achiote oil used for?
Here are some common uses of achiote oil:
- Coloring Agent: Achiote oil is primarily used to add color to dishes. It can be used in recipes where a rich, golden-orange hue is desired. Common dishes include rice, stews, soups, and sauces. It’s a key ingredient in Puerto Rican sazon.
- Marinades: Achiote oil is often used as a key component in marinades for meats, poultry, and seafood. The oil not only adds color but also imparts a mild, earthy flavor to the ingredients.
- Grilling and Roasting: Achiote oil can be brushed onto meats before grilling or roasting to enhance the color of the dish.
- Rubs and Spice Blends: The oil can be used as a base for spice rubs and blends, providing both color and flavor to the mixture. This is particularly common in recipes for tacos, grilled meats, and other traditional Latin dishes.
- Traditional Dishes: Achiote oil is a key ingredient in several traditional Latin American and Caribbean dishes. For example, it is used in the preparation of dishes like achiote chicken, cochinita pibil, and Puerto Rican pasteles.
Check out these traditional Puerto Rican recipes from Delish D’Lites
- Arroz Con Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice with Pigeon Peas)
- Arroz Con Pollo (Puerto Rican Chicken & Rice)
- Homemade Sazon Seasoning
- Pollo Asado (Puerto Rican Roast Chicken)
- Carne Guisada (Puerto Rican Beef Stew)
- Puerto Rican Picadillo (Stewed Ground Beef)
Puerto Rican Achiote Oil
- 1 cup neutral oil (canola, vegetable or corn oil)
- 2 tbsp achiote (annatto) seeds
In a small sauce pan, add two tablespoons of annatto seeds & 1 cup of oil.
Cook over low heat until you start to see tiny bubbles rising up from the seeds. Don’t boil the seeds or the oil will turn bitter. You are looking for a simmer of heat forming from the oil.
Once you see small bubbles forming, simmer for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off.
Allow oil to fully cool, then strain out the seeds and store the oil in an airtight bottle or container.
Use as a replacement for other oils in your traditional Puerto Rican dishes.