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Nov 5, 2012 05:12 PM

Substitute for annatto seed?

I have some,short ribs that I plan to turn into birria tacos. But my recipe calls for achiote paste, which I couldn't find at my Latin market. The one ingredient in achiote paste that keeps me from making my own is the annatto seeds.

Is there anything with a similar flavor profile that I can use? I've never had it, so I have no idea what I'm looking for.

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  1. for the color you want turmeric, preferably penzey's crazy yellow stuff.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chowrin

      turmeric does not turn things the red orange color that annatto does.

      1. re: rasputina

        mm... you're right, that's more like paprika. or maybe mix the two?

    2. I can't think of anything that it matches. Perhaps a cross between saffron and paprika? I did notice that Penzey's is now carrying achiote seeds if you have one near you.

      1. What you probably want comes in small plastic wrapped cubes.

        The seeds are also easy to find in Latin markets, but they are hard to grind. More often they are gently fried in some oil, and fished out. In the process they lend their color to the oil. Thus, most often they are used for color, not flavor. This Yucatan style of dish is the exception, in which enough achiote (also called annatto) is used to lend a mild earthy taste.


        Goya makes Sazon seasoning packets with annatto
        Again, it's mainly there for color.

        1 Reply
        1. re: paulj

          Achiote is common in many dishes in the Yucatan, where I have lived off-and-on for many years. Annatto seeds are native there, I usually crush them with a heavy spoon. They definitely impart a rusty color, and in sufficient quantity they add a distinctive and unique flavor to pork, fish or chicken dishes. Every ingredient in Yucatec cooking serves a flavor purpose, nothing is there for "pretty".

          As to the OP's question about a substitute, which would be for color only as the taste of achiote is unique, a mild, unsmoked paprika would be the closest.

          1. It's got three kinds of chiles, so I doubt it's for color.

            9 Replies
            1. re: JonParker

              How much paste? What region of Mexico?

              1. re: paulj

                One tbsp. It's from Yucatan, I think. That recipe you linked above looks very similar to the recipe I'm using. I may just skip the achiote, and add a bit of allspice, extra cumin and coriander. Thanks, you've been a big help.

                1. re: JonParker

                  Conchita pibil is the Yucatan recipe that uses a significant amount of achiote paste.
                  1 cup of it is used in a paste that coats 3 lb of pork, which is then steamed in a banana leaf.

                  1. re: paulj

                    That looks delicious. If I find the achiote paste (and I will) I'm definitely making that.

                    1. re: JonParker

                      Jon, I make cochinita pibil all the time.

                      It's not a tough dish to make and if no bannana leaves, i just use foil and a dutch oven.

                      The achiote is key.

                      i find it locally in the little squares for paste but have also made my own by grinding whole annato seeds (Goya brand).

                      I have yet to find a substitute for either. It's not exactly a std. profile flavor that can be subbed by a different spice.

                      If doing pibil's (cochanita or pollo), I suggest you also make the sweet red pickeld refridgerator onions that go on top. Sublime but yummy.

                      Food and Wine Magazine in Oct 2012 had a nice red pickled onion recipe that is available on line.

                      1. re: jjjrfoodie

                        The recipe I used the pickled red onions, and they were delicious: in fact I've been thinking up other uses for them. The tacos were fantastic too. This is definitely going in my regular recipe rotation.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I can eat them from the bowl with a spoon, likewise a good Veracruz sauce.