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Annatto paste?

This is an ingredient for a recipe that I am looking forward to trying, but I haven't had any luck finding annatto paste. I've never used it before, so I'm not sure how important it is in this recipe. Is there anything I can substitute for this? If not, I thought maybe someone here would have enough experience with it to know if I could leave it out without drastically changing the final dish. The recipe calls for 1 tsp of annatto paste to about 2 lbs of beef along with broth, peppers, onions,herbs, and several spices. Sorry if this is a topic that has been addressed before. I tried searching and couldn't find anything about it on here. Thanks!

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  1. I buy annatto seeds and crush them for a coarse achiote powder. The paste aspect is unimportant. A small bag of Badia annatto seeds is cheap.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      In Latin America it is common to gently fry some of the seeds in oil (or lard) until they lend their color to the oil. This oil is then used to cook and color items. The Yucatan is about the only place that uses achiote in large enough quantities to lend a flavor to their food. The paste, made ground achiote and spices, is usually sold in rectangular blocks.

      1. re: paulj

        I used to gather wild annatto pods and seeds in Quintana Roo, whatever I needed. Lots of other goodies in the jungle, also.

    2. Is this achiote maybe? It's a mix of ground annatto seed, garlic, and other spices that's used a lot in Yucatecan cuisine as a marinade. It imparts color and flavor, but if the recipe only calls for one teaspoon of it then I would think it's more for color than flavor.

      1. You can get it on-line at Mexgrocer.com

        3 Replies
        1. re: penthouse pup

          For the record, the achiote paste made by El Mexicano and sold by Mexgrocer has a horrible metallic aftertaste. I used it once and ended up throwing away my pork dish.


          1. re: Melanie Wong

            What one do you use please? Or do you make your own, which seems pretty easy.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              The El Yucateco brand is quite good.

          2. You can just omit it since it is such a small quantity

            1. It's achiote paste - same thing. Hispanic supermarkets stock it, though often not with the spices. Tends to be with the chile sauces, canned chipotles, etc...

              2 Replies
              1. re: sbp

                Thanks. They're the same thing. And I also found it where you mention, not with the spices. I think the paste is better used than the seeds.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Absolutely easier to work with. I use it as a rub on chicken and pork, for example.

              2. Thanks everyone! I think I will try the recipe this time without the annatto paste since it sounds like it may not make much of a difference in this one. Thanks for the website suggestion too. I will order it to try again later. I'm trying to get out of my comfort zone with cooking, so I will probably need it again sometime.

                12 Replies
                1. re: needcoffee

                  Cochinita pibil is a dish that uses a significant amount of achiote

                  recipe working from scratch

                  recipe using the paste

                  1. re: paulj

                    I think annatto seeds are much easier to find than the paste, and are an easy substitute for the flavor and color of achiote paste as they are the base ingredient. Many say achiote provides color only, I very much disagree.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Are you referring to my comment? I certainly didn't intend to suggest that achiote only provides color. But in this case at 1 tsp. per 2 lbs. of beef I find it hard to believe that it's for reasons of flavor that it's on the ingredient list.

                      1. re: Soul Vole

                        No, I wasn't referring to your comment, but the notion that achiote only provides color has been a common one in numerous older threads.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          I've never come across those comments. Not on CH that I'm aware of.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            As to noticing comments about the virtues of achiote, or lack of, I think I am more personally invested than most, having lived in the Yucatan with appreciation for the cool stuff there that is free for the taking. Next example: chaya.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Oh, sorry, I did a limited search and didn't find the comments. At my age I don't depend on memory any more. But, again, the seeds are just one ingredient in the paste. I think it's best that OP and others realize that.

                      2. re: Veggo

                        I can get the paste at Safeway whereas the seeds I've only found at the Latino market.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          No surprise there. Paste at Safeway is an easy to use, 'gringo-ized' form at a higher price; those who grew up with annatto in the yard know how to use the seeds.
                          As to color only vs. flavor, I suggest chewing a whole seed. It is a subtle but unique flavor that goes well with pork, fish, and poultry.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            I think you may be missing the point. The seed is used to make the paste, along with other ingredients. One combo:

                            •1/4 cup annato seeds
                            •1 tablespoon coriander seeds
                            •1 tablespoon oregano
                            •1 teaspoon cumin seeds
                            •1 teaspoon black peppercorns
                            •2 whole cloves
                            •1 teaspoon salt
                            •5 cloves of garlic, peeled
                            •1/2 cup bitter orange juice (Seville) or 1/3 cup white vinegar

                            So you'd be getting way different flavors than the seed alone. And the paste is an authentic item. I also figured at $2.50, I could splurge :)

                            I was at our Asian market just a bit ago and, funny, they had the paste but not the seeds.

                      3. re: needcoffee

                        I'd suggest that you ignore the seed and make the paste with the rest of the ingredients, which are quite flavorful.

                      4. If you want to make the recipe again or another recipe like cochinita pibil, I have found the achiote paste on amazon.com

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: AmyH

                          Definitely! Amazon is so worth it for those of us who don't live in food capitals, isn't it? And I always filter for free shipping and then seldom have ANY trouble putting together a $25 order :)

                        2. From the side bar, Substitute for annatto seed.
                          basically the same topic, though the OP's recipe is for a birria.

                          1. Knowing the origins of the recipe can help decide the importance an ingredient like this. Is it a traditional recipe from an area that makes heavy use of it? Or is a gringo chef try to give a 'southern touch' to a dish?

                            I checked a couple of Mexican cookbooks. Santibanez Truly Mexican does not list achiote/annatto in the index.

                            Martinez The Food and Life of Oaxaca: has a half page preparation section, as well as a half dozen recipes in the index. One is a beef stew.

                            Martinez prefers to grind her own seeds (do it in small batches, they are very hard, is her advise). The commercial pastes are (nearly) all Yucatan in style, and not compatible with Oaxacan flavors. I'd have to compare ingredients lists to confirm that.


                            And Martinez is one of those writers who describes achiote as mild, earthy, used more (but not only) for color than flavor.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: paulj

                              I just checked Diana Kennedy and she put a different spin on it for me. Here are the ingredients:

                              4 rounded T achiote seed
                              1 t crushed dried Mexican oregano, Yucatecan if possible
                              1 t cumin seeds
                              1/2 t mild black peppercorns
                              12 whole allspice
                              3 T water, approx.

                              She mixes the spices and grind about 1/3 at a time in her spice grinder. Sift through a fine sieve and grind again. Stir in the water til it forms a stiff paste. If not using right away, form in a cake, divide into 1/4s, wrap and freeze. When ready to use, crush the spices with 12 cloves of garlic and sea salt. That 12 cloves is for the full amount.

                              It's clear from this thread that using the seeds alone is NOT the same thing so that's good to know. Also easy to make it. And if needing a substitute, I'd make without the seeds as there's LOADS of flavor going on without it. I learn so much here :)

                              1. re: c oliver

                                This an Oaxacan version

                                2 Tbsp. Lard
                                1 c. Achiote
                                3 c. Fresh orange juice
                                1 Tbsp. Cumin seeds
                                1 tsp Black pepper corns
                                1 Tbsp. Dry Mexican oregano
                                4 lrg Garlic cloves
                                1 tsp Salt

                                Read more: http://cookeatshare.com/recipes/pasta...

                              2. re: paulj

                                I think the person who made it said it is Costa Rican, but I'm not absolutely sure of it.
                                I feel like I'm in way over my head compared to how knowledgable all of you are, but I have learned a lot from this. If I'm understanding correctly annatto seeds and achiote seeds are two different names for the same thing. The seeds are one of several ingredients for the paste and annatto paste and achiote paste like the seeds are just different names of the same ingredient? Also, the paste is often used for color, but there are some dishes in which enough is used that it is an important flavor? I hope I have that right.

                                For this recipe, I'll just list the ingredients since I can't figure out how to post the link to it.
                                The ingredients for the braised beef:
                                2 pounds Beef Roast
                                1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
                                1 Yellow Onion (sliced)
                                4 Garlic cloves (finely chopped)
                                1/2 tablespoon Tomato Paste
                                2 cups Beef Broth
                                1 teaspoon dried Parsley
                                2 teaspoons Chili Powder
                                1 1/2 teaspoons Cumin
                                1/2 teaspoon Cayenne
                                1/2 teaspoon Paprika
                                1/2 teaspoon Oregano

                                When the beef is done it is shredded and used to make hash according to the recipe. The following are the ingredients for the final dish:
                                3 Plantains (slightly ripe but not green)
                                1-2 pounds roasted and shredded Beef
                                1 Onion (finely chopped)
                                1/2 Bell Pepper (finely chopped)
                                3 tablespoons Cilantro (finely chopped)
                                1 teaspoon Annatto Paste
                                Adobo Seasoning to taste
                                1 cup reserved Braising Broth
                                3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
                                Tortillas or White Rice to serve

                                1. re: needcoffee

                                  That sounds fantastic. And, yeah, I think you're correct in your reasoning. And I, for one, find google is my friend :) I can sound far more knowledgeable than I am!!!

                                    1. re: needcoffee

                                      Yes, in Mexico and especially in the Yucatan "achiote" can refer to either the seed itself or the spice paste. In paste form it's also called "pasta de achiote" or "recado rojo" in the Yucatan.

                                      Again I'll say that at 1 tsp. of achiote for 2 lbs. of beef and all the other players in this recipe, the achiote is there more for color than flavor. If you can't get achiote and your paprika is mild, a little more paprika for color will do the trick. Or just leave the achiote out and don't worry about it. There's not going to be a big difference in flavor in this recipe.

                                      1. re: Soul Vole

                                        Agreed. And IIRC the other seasonings duplicated the seasonings in the typical paste.

                                      2. re: needcoffee

                                        I did a search on 'beef hash with plantain' and got this right away:

                                        The video is from the Chew (with Symon). Yes it is Tico. As I wrote before, origin is important in dealing with an ingredient like this.

                                        Their achiote paste is:

                                        Another Tico recipe using achiote paste (or liquid)
                                        Looks like this is pure achiote (in liquid), without other seasonings like the Yucatan version.

                                        I make a similar yellow rice using Sazón Goya (with cilantro and achiote).

                                        The Adobo seasoning (used in the video) may also have achiote. It's a popular Latino seasoning salt.

                                    2. I wouldn't really recommend omitting it, since it will add a lot of color to the dish as well. Achiote seeds = annatto seeds. Some of the Goya seasonings have achiote in them too, and they're generally available in most supermarkets.