Achiote is a beautiful shrub that grows throughout the Amazon Basin and it is frequently found in villages as it produces pretty pink flowers, typically has a nice shrub shape and the fruit produces seeds that are used as a red dye called “annatto.”
The fruits from this shrub are not edible and they grow in clusters of red or brownish red with each fruit is covered in spines. The spines are not extremely hard but rather prickly to the touch. It is, however, the seeds within the pod that have value.
The achiote seeds are used as a dye for baskets and other items such as wood carvings, hair coloring and lipstick just to name but a few examples of the seed’s usefulness. In addition, it is also a very nice food coloring and flavor additive to many dishes such as fish, rice and cassava. It is commonly used in rice to flavor and add color and replaces the much more expensive saffron.
Interestingly, this plant has become very popular in many regions of the world and the pigment extracted by boiling the seeds has been given a pigment number of E-160b, which is a standard for many European countries.
Achiote originated in the New World Tropics but has now been introduced to many areas of Asia and Africa. Travelers on International Expeditions’ Amazon Voyage may even have their faces painted with Achiote during a village visit...a common practice in the Peruvian Amazon.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.