Achiote paste is a popular coloring and flavoring in Central American, Mexican, and Caribbean cuisines and is made with annatto seeds, cumin, pepper, coriander, oregano, cloves, and garlic. It adds an earthy, somewhat sweet and spicy, slightly smokey flavor and can be used as a sauce, marinade, or rub for meat, chicken, and fish. Although it is simple to purchase pre-made achiote paste (which needs to be diluted with water or broth in order to be used for cooking), homemade achiote paste has a much better flavor and is worth the effort. You will need a spice mill and blender; the paste will last a month stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
The star ingredient, annatto seeds, are known in Mexico as achiote (pronounced ah-chee-oh-tah), and come from a tree thought to have originated in tropical South America. They have been used for centuries by people in Central and South America and the Caribbean to give a yellowish or bright red color to human skin (as in body paint), cloth, and edibles.
- 1/4 cup annatto seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cloves garlic (peeled)
- 1/2 cup bitter orange juice (or 1/4 cup regular orange juice plus 1/4 cup Mexican lime juice or 1/3 cup white vinegar)
Gather the ingredients.
Grind the annatto, coriander seeds, oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and cloves in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle.
Place the ground spices with the salt, garlic, and bitter orange juice in a blender and process until it is smooth.
Store your achiote paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use as instructed in your recipe.
How to Use Achiote Paste
To use your homemade achiote paste, rub the mixture onto chicken, pork, or fish and let it sit for 4 to 6 hours. You can also dilute it with water, broth, citrus juice, Worcestershire sauce, or vinegar and use it as a marinade. Cook or grill as usual. The paste can also be added to empanada and tamale dough for color and flavor.
- If you don't have a spice grinder, you can use an old coffee grinder. Make sure you don't plan on using the grinder for coffee as the seasoning flavor will be left behind.
- Bitter orange juice can be found in the international food section of the grocery store or Latin food markets. Common brands are Goya and Badia (labeled as "sour orange").
Is Achiote Paste the Same as Sazon Seasoning?
Although both Latin seasonings share similar ingredients, Sazon and achiote paste are different. Sazon is a powder and is sprinkled into recipes to add a boost of flavor while achiote paste gets its texture from the bitter orange juice. Sazon also includes cilantro while achiote paste calls for cloves, creating separate flavor profiles.