Achiote Oil

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If you’ve never made achiote oil before, it’s really fun to do and it’s a very handy ingredient to have on hand. This is especially true if you cook Latin American and Mexican cuisines. The oil is made from beautiful red Annato seeds, which are about the same size as cardamom seeds. Why this oil is not called annato oil, I’ll never know. For some reason the seeds have their own name, and the oil, a different one.

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I purchase the annato seeds in packages so I always have them when I need them. But a jar of achiote oil will keep in the fridge for quite a while, so you don’t have to have pounds of the seeds on hand. I just like to have every possible seed and herb and spice in storage – it’s just what I do!

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To make the oil, crush the annato seeds slightly – I do this in my wonderful little Magic Bullet, but it could even be done with a knife. Be careful, though. The yellow-orange of these seeds will stain your fingers and everything else.

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Penzey’s, where I buy my annato seeds, suggests 1/4 cup of annato seeds to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. I don’t remember what ratio I’ve used before, but today I used more oil. You will still get that lovely color, as well as the smoky annato flavor. And a little goes a long way.

Bring the oil with the seeds in it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Let the oil become infused with the flavor and color of the annato seeds, until the oil is cool enough to handle.

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Using a fairly fine sieve, strain the crushed seeds from the oil. Store the oil in the refrigerator.

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This oil can be used in absolutely any dish, either as part of the oil for sautéeing aromatics, or as a little drizzle on top of a finished dish like a soup or stew. Try it in a rice or risotto dish, in any stew, or rub a pork loin with it!

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note: Do not “cook” the annato seeds in the oil. Simply heat the oil to a light boil and then remove from the heat. If you prefer, just warm the oil, and then let it sit overnight or for a few hours. Once I accidentally boiled the annato seeds, and the oil came out very bitter and nasty. Don’t do that!

20 thoughts on “Achiote Oil

  1. I believe (although I could be wrong) that achiote may be the Spanish word for the seeds, probably based off of an indigenous South American language, and annato is the English word.

    Fun fact: In Ecuador there is an indigenous tribe (the Tsachila) and the men use the annato seeds to make a paste and color their hair bright red.

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  2. This is such a great idea! I don’t use achiote oil in my cooking, but I’m starting to prepare Mexican cuisine more and more. I’m wondering if this oil might be the magic flavoring that is missing from my cooking. Who knows, but its worth a shot! Thanks for posting and what a fun project. :)

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  3. I was looking around the web to see how different people use different proportions of seed to oil and I came across this post. Great explanation! And yes, “achiote” is the Spanish word for annato. Also, I find it interesting that you crush the seeds a little first. I bet that gets you even more flavor while using less seeds. Neat idea!

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