A few years ago I made a recipe for a Puerto Rican inspired risotto which called for aceite de achiote (annatto oil) as the base. I had never heard of annatto oil so I promptly looked up where to buy this. I discovered that apparently, much to my chagrin, this is not actually sold in stores (whoops!). Annatto oil is made by sautéing annatto seeds in an oil, such as olive oil or canola oil.
After making my annatto oil and delicious risotto, I called my parents to tell them about my delicious meal. I was so excited to tell them about my fancy technique to sauté the annatto seeds in the oil, When I told my dad, he promptly responded by telling me “oh nice, your great grandmother ALWAYS had a jar of annatto oil next to the stove ready to use”. Well… not so fancy anymore, are we?! I was slightly embarrassed to realize that this oil is actually commonplace back home, but was delighted to discover that I was following in the footsteps of my bisabuela without even realizing it!
So I am sure you are asking, what exactly is annatto and how is it used? Annatto seeds come from the fruit of an achiote tree. It is very commonplace as a cooking spice in Latin America, but is also used widely across the globe as a food-coloring agent. The annatto seed is a dark red pod which provides an orangey tint when added to food. Outside of making annatto oil with the full seeds, achiote is more commonly used in food in powder form. If you have ever wondered why a lot of latin american stews and braises are red-orangey, it is most likely because of the added achiote powder.
I have found myself using this oil over and over again in many stews and soups and is often the base of many Puerto Rican dishes. This recipe can be halved or doubled, depending on how often you will use this.
To make the oil you will have to find the annatto seeds. I typically find these in a hispanic supermarket. If you are in a pinch you can substitute by adding annatto powder instead of using the oil. The powder is a little more common and is sometimes found in the hispanic spice aisle of traditional supermarkets.
So how do you make aceite de achiote? First you heat your oil in a pan at low-medium heat. When the oil is hot, add two tablespoons of the annatto seeds into the pan and distribute throughout the pan. Leave the seeds sautéing in the pan for 8-10 minutes. Make sure the oil is not too hot or the seeds will start burning. It should have a continuous sizzle, however, lower the heat if the seeds look like they are getting too dark.
After the allotted time remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool down for a few minutes. Once the oil has cooled down, use a funnel and a stainless steel mesh strainer to pour the oil into a clean glass container. Now, start using the aceite de achiote in different recipes such as our Achiote Chicken Wings.
One last word of advice, the one thing you have to be extra careful with is how you handle the annatto powder and oil. Annatto is commonly used as a natural food coloring, which means that it easily stains any surface that it touches (my marble pastry board has a permanent orange spot). Make sure you use it with non-porous cooking equipment it won’t be a problem!
- 2 Tbsp Annatto Seeds
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
- Heat the olive oil in a pan over low to medium heat.
- Once the olive oil is hot add the annatto seeds and distribute through the pan.
- Let the seeds sizzle in the oil for about 8-10 minutes, making sure they don't burn.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Use a mesh strainer and funnel to transfer oil to a clean glass container.