Characteristics of achiote

What is an achiote?

Characteristics of achiote (Bixa orellana)

Common name: Bixa, Achiote, Annatto tree, Lipstick tree

– Spanish: Achiote, annato, bija, rocou, achiotl, acanguarica, changuarica, pumacua

Scientific name: Bixa orellana L.

It owes its scientific name to Francisco Orellana, discoverer of the Amazon, who observed how the Amazonian tribes used achiote to paint their bodies.

Family: Bixaceae

Distribution: Small tree native to tropical America, currently distributed throughout the tropics. It grows wild or is cultivated to obtain a coloring substance from its fruits.

Habitat: Native to hot and rainy climates, it can grow in all types of soil. Altitudes from 0 to 1,200 m.

Description of the plant

Shrub 2 to 10 meters high. Simple, alternate, whole and leathery leaves. Hermaphrodite flowers, white or pink, grouped in terminal clusters at the end of the branches.

Very characteristic fruit composed of a dehiscent capsule (which opens at maturity), spherical, ellipsoidal or conical in shape, covered by spines, green in color, and stained reddish when ripe.

Inside it contains 35 to 50 seeds, red and 4 – 5 mm. of length.

Composition of the fruits

Botanical illustration of a branch of achiote.

Other components: cyanidin, ellagic acid, crocetin

Uses of achiote

  • Food coloring: A yellow coloring that is used for many food products, called bixin, is extracted from the seeds. In Europe it is the food additive E-160b (known as annatto or bixin), which is mainly used to give a better appearance to cheese (cheddar type) and soft drinks.

Given the growing concern for the safety of food additives, annatto is presented as an excellent option because it does not have toxicity or alter the taste of food.

  • Cosmetics, beauty and rituals: It is used as a colorant, for sun creams, pencils and lipsticks. With the dried and crushed seeds of the achiote, the natives paint their skin to protect it from the sun and to beautify their body.

This practice, widespread throughout the tropical zone, reached the North American tribes and was why the colonizers called the native inhabitants Redskins. Today many tribes still maintain this practice.

  • Achiote in the kitchen: Achiote is widely used as a food coloring. One of the best known dishes is the annatto paste or recado, which consists of a thick reddish sauce, due to annatto, mixed with different spices (coriander, cumin, allspice, garlic, cloves, etc.)
  • Medicinal: It is used in herbal medicine for its richness in beta-carotene or provitamin A.

punto rojo More information on achiote

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

2 July, 2021

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