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Feb 16, 2007 12:17 PM

Achiote - substitute?

It seems this is used primarily for color, therefore I'd think I could sub either paprika or saffron, or leave it out completely. Am I right? Or does it in fact impart significant flavor?

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  1. Saffron would be an awfully expensive substitute. You could use a bit of turmeric, achiote/annatto is much cheaper than saffron. 3.5 oz. box of annatto cost me $1.39. I can't begin to think what that much saffron would cost, I've paid over $5.00 for a tiny vial with a few threads. Look for it in the Latin foods section of your grocery.

    1. You might as well use the real deal since you can buy it as a ground spice right next to all the other spices...usually bottled as annatto. I used to grind my own until years later I realized it was already available! I think it does have a unique flavor that would be missing if you substitute something else.

      2 Replies
      1. re: achtungpv

        Actually, a lof of America cannot. Not everyone lives in a multi-racial city. A small town in Alabama, let's say, that is miles from Montgomery or Birmingham will never carry something like that. It's a real shame, believe me. I find it very frustrating too because there are so many good dishes I've experienced in my travels that I would love to try at home, but cannot.

        I know you can buy stuff like this online, but when I only need it for one recipe, I cannot validate the purchase. :(

        1. re: magnoliasouth

          Have you thought about shopping on Amazon? You can get spices from different areas on there.

      2. It's not worth a trip to the store. Annato is mainly for color, unless the recipe calls for several teaspoons or frying in annato oil (soak whole seeds in vegetable oil for a couple days, then drain). If there are any other spices in the dish, a bit of turmeric will give some color without any noticeable change in taste.

        1. Great advice. I think I should have specified though, the recipe calls for 2 tbsp of achiote paste. Is that not the same as the powder? Any subs suggested? Thanks!

          2 Replies
          1. re: dhchait

            You can make the paste. Actually what i buy is the paste but rather dry. The 3.5 oz box requires you to dilute it is 1 C. white vinegar and some salt. I find that a bit muc so just wing it. 1 tsp to 1/4 C. vinegar and some salt. You'll have to learn what flavor you like.

            1. re: dhchait

              The paste does have a "special mixture" of a bunch of different spices. I do think that pure achiote does have a flavor, the Spice Sage Website says this about the pure seeds: "Taste and Aroma: Sweet, peppery, with a trace of nutmeg." I think that theres also a smoky hint.

              Spice Sage also lists Hibiscus Powder, Paprika, Turmeric or Nutmeg as potential substitutes, but that would be for the seed, not the paste, so you would have to add the other ingredients.

              I poked around amazon, where you can buy the paste, but non of the product list the ingredients on the site. And I look at a lot. Of course, Wikipedia pops up, and, besides annato, lists Mexican oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, garlic, and salt. Rick Bayless is one of the two sources. No proportions

              There's another chowhound post that provides a real recipe for the paste - you could just omit the annato and deal with the lack of color and the contribution to flavor. I like having the orange flavor in it.


            2. For Hispanic foods, achiote or annato are used for its yellow coloring, but i would only omit them if you definitely have other spices in your recipe.

              Most of my recipes that ask for achiote normally have a bunch of other spices and therefore omitting achiote should be no big deal (unless you are making yellow rice! Haha in my head if its not yellow it doesn't taste the same!)

              3 Replies
              1. re: Lorry13

                This thread has piqued my interest. For all the time I lived in Mexico I never bought achiote paste with its other seasonings and flavors, but I used to pound my annatto seeds and always enjoyed their flavor contribution, more than color. I'll keep an eye out for the paste and give it a try.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Having lived in Florida for a long time I used to find seasoning mixes in the Latin aisle that included achiote. That way I could get my yellow rice AND additional flavoring from other spices.

                  Plus it beats buying each spice individually as that can get pricy if its only for one recipe. Never tried annatto on its own so no idea what it adds to the recipe, but fresh annatto seeds sounds better than buying the spice.

                  1. re: Lorry13

                    Thanks, Lorry. On a parallel topic, mole pastes are beyond my skill but are mostly delicious, I'll try an achiote paste as an equal shortcut for its purposes.