The annatto plant (Bixa orellana) is one of the oldest known natural dye yielding plants native to Central and South America. It has a wide variety of traditional uses including body painting, treating heartburn and stomach distress, sunscreen, repelling insects and warding off evil spirits.
This natural food dye is responsible for the bright orange hue in your favorite block of cheddar cheese, according to Smithsonian Magazine. It is also a popular ingredient in tropical dishes and as a coloring agent for food products.
Natural Food Dye
Annatto is one of the most popular natural dyes used in the food industry and it is a great substitute for synthetic dyes which have been linked to a variety of health issues. It gives foods a beautiful orange-yellow color and is a safe, nontoxic ingredient to use in many recipes.
It is produced from the seeds of the tropical shrub Bixa orellana. The pigmentation comes from the apocarotenoids, bixin and norbixin. These are fat-soluble and water-soluble at the same time, a dual solubility that is rare among carotenoids. The more norbixin a pigment contains, the yellower it is and a higher bixin content produces an orange shade.
The preparation of biscuit cream involves the addition of shortening (margarine), lecithin (monoglyceride), icing sugar and milk powder. A known quantity of biscuit cream was weighed and calculated volume of annatto dye single strength PG formulation was added for obtaining the desired colour shade comparable to commercial samples. The prepared samples were stored in MPE pouches and the colour readings and extractability of the annatto were measured after a storage period of 6 months.
Annatto is a rich source of plant compounds with antioxidant properties. These include tocotrienols (a type of vitamin E) and carotenoids like bixin and norbixin. Test tube studies have found that annatto extracts can suppress the growth of cancer cells and cause them to die in human prostate, liver, pancreas and skin cancer cell lines (11).
These compounds also have antimicrobial effects. Annatto powder has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria that can lead to food contamination, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens (8). In addition, annatto powder has been found to have a positive impact on the shelf life of bread products.
The pigments used in annatto are fat-soluble and water-soluble. They are called xanthophylls, and unlike beta-carotene, they are not vitamin A precursors. The amount of norbixin in an annatto colorant determines its shade, with more norbixin giving it a yellow tint and less norbixin yielding an orange hue. These carotenoid pigments have been linked to improved eye health.
Annatto is an edible food coloring and condiment derived from the seeds of the tropical achiote tree (Bixa orellana). The spiky brown and red fruit pods that grow on this plant are also called poor man’s saffron, bija, onoto, colorau, or urucum. When the pods open, they reveal small red seeds that can be ground to produce a natural orange to yellow dye for foods.
Annatto also contains a rare form of vitamin E known as tocotrienols, which have been shown to support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.(2)
While it has long been used as a food dye and is well-known for lending dishes a vibrant orange hue, annatto has also been linked to healthy digestive function. It’s believed that this is due to the compounds cis-bixin and carotenoids found in the seed.
In addition, annatto can provide calcium, phosphorus and manganese. These minerals work together to build strong bones and promote healthy teeth and gums. It’s also known to reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and may help boost immune function.
You can find annatto in ground and paste form at most standard grocery stores that carry Latin American, Mexican, Caribbean or Filipino ingredients. It is typically sold alongside other spices or in the health foods aisle. It’s also commonly available online. However, if you have a sensitive stomach, be cautious with this spice because it can cause gastrointestinal distress in some people. This is especially true if you have a food allergy or intolerance.