Achiote Powder: Substitutes, Source, Uses, Flavor Revealed

Is achiote powder the same as annatto powder? What are its substitutes and uses in cooking? You’ll learn about it in this article.

Achiote is a popular Latin American spice. Annatto is the English name for achiote. In East Asian countries it is known as atsuete or atsuwete.

Annatto or achiote is sold as dried seeds, paste, powder, or oil for cooking and coloring.

What Is Achitote Powder?

Achiote powder is a dark red, tart-tasting powder made from annatto seeds. It’s better known as annatto powder in most places. In Mexico and a few Central American regions, annatto seeds are known as achiote seeds. It has several other names, including aachiotillo urucum, bija, and atsuete.

In different cuisines across the world, it’s used as a flavoring agent and colorant.

Bixa Orellana (annatto plant) is a shrub native to Northern South America and Mexico and is now cultivated in different parts of the world. This shrub bears spiny fruits with seeds inside them. Achiote powder is made by grinding organic Bixa orellana seeds. These seeds contain bixin pigment which is an orange-red carotenoid.

Achiote powder looks dark reddish in color but when added to food the color changes to yellow or yellow-orange.

Achiote powder has a warm, earthy flavor with mild bitterness and a subtle astringent tang. Also, its flavor is described as bittersweet with notes of mace and mint.

Where can I buy achiote powder? It is easy to find it in the Mexican/Latin spices section in the supermarket. You can also buy it from online vendors which are many out there.

Uses Of Annatto Powder

Achiote powder is used both as a flavoring and colorant.

Traditionally, achiote powder was primarily used as a coloring agent for foods, makeup, or textile.

Currently, many cooks love to use it as a flavoring spice in various recipes. Achiote seeds or powder are often added to cheese and oils for color and flavor or soaked in water to make a flame-colored broth.

Annatto powder can directly be sprinkled over your dishes or a dry rub on meat and vegetables. The sauteed powder is sprinkled in soups and sauces; also it pairs well with most vegetable dishes, grains, chicken, turkey, or fish.

You can also use it as an ingredient in different spice blends used for seasoning everything from homemade sausages to pickled mushrooms.

Substitute For Achiote Powder

Annatto/achiote powder is not easily available in most grocery stores unless you have Mexican/Latin spice stores near you. If you don’t have it, then try out an achiote substitute. Here are the best alternatives to use:

Homemade Achiote Powder

If you have run out of achiote powder, the best alternative solution is to make it at home. Annatto seeds are easily available in any average grocery store near you. Go and get it.

Achiote seeds are very hard; in fact, they are closer to gravel in texture. It isn’t easy to grind them with usual implements like a mortar and pestle or a blender. The easiest and fastest way to grind them is with an electric spice mill or a coffee bean grinder.


Safflower is a perfect replacement for achiote powder if all you want is a color with little or no flavor. It provides a bright yellow color to dishes like annatto seeds powder. Crush the safflower threads to a powder-like consistency and use it in the same way as you use achiote powder to color your foods.

Other Alternatives

Just like safflower, saffron is an excellent food colorant that you can use in place of achiote powder. However, it’s a very expensive ingredient not affordable for most home cooks.

Turmeric powder is another common food coloring spice, especially in Asian cooking. Use turmeric powder to swap out achiote powder in a pinch. Just a quarter teaspoon of turmeric powder is enough to give a bright golden-yellow color to your dish. The strong earthy bitter flavors of turmeric may not be pleasant for all.

Final Thought

Annatto/achiote powder is made from the seeds of Bixa Orellana or achiote shrub. From ancient times, this powder has been well utilized in cooking for coloring and flavoring. The best substitutes for achiote powder include safflower, saffron, and turmeric.

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