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Nature's Love Child

I have to say that when it comes to having a great sense of humor, nothing can touch natures wonderful many ways in creating some crazy looking fruit, like the annatto for example; it has the physical characteristics that only a mother could truly love.

So what is annatto? Annatto is a seed that is extracted from the ripened fruit of the achiote tree that grows in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The achiote pod itself, resembles a pair of giant hairy, heart-shaped lips. Not something you want to kiss. Yet, look inside of the pod and behold the rich, red seeds that are hidden.

Annatto is most synonymous with the famous achiote paste (also known asrecado rojo), which is a potent spice mixture that is commonly used in Latin American, South American and Carribbean dishes. Annatto is also used as a natural food additive for coloring cheese. In fact, as far back as the 1800s, the ubiquitous cheddar cheese acquired its signature orangish-color using annatto.

In many Central and South American dishes, annatto is used in place of the highly expensive saffron spice to impart a similar golden-yellow color to such dishes as arroz con pollo. It has been used as a colorant in many other commercial products as well, such as meats, beverages, smoked fish and a variety of packaged food items.

How to use annatto is relatively easy. You can steep the seeds in warm oil which imparts a reddish tint to the oil, strain the seeds, and use the infusion to make exotic rice casseroles, sauces, soups or for whatever sautes you might fancy. The actual flavor of the seeds does not match the richness of its color, but it can be described as having earthy, nutty and slight peppery tones.

Now you can also grind the seeds at home or use our annatto powder for making pastes, meat rubs and marinades. The annatto powder combines well with other spices like cumin, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, black pepper, oregano, garlic and salt.

Whether you use the annatto seeds or powder, you can be as creative as you wish. Just remember to have fun doing so.

In the meantime, I would like to share this easy recipe for making basic achiote paste to use for practically any kind of Mexican dish or as a marinade. I think this one would be fun for that special Valentine of yours.

Happy Valentines Day!