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Wild Flowers of the World
Photo taken in Grenada"s rainforest.
Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The inedible fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain annatto, also called bixin. It can be extracted by stirring the seeds in water. It is used to color food products, such as cheeses, fish, and salad oil.
A gem on the tongue, a jewel to the world—the seeds are known as “red gold” in parts of South America, where Bixa orellana seeds are a lucrative export. They are the source of annatto, an additive that’s used to color food such as popcorn, cheese, and Chinese spare ribs. Extracted from the red pericarp that surrounds the seeds, annatto coloring is a deep yellow-orange. Sometimes it’s used in place of saffron. The plant’s ethnobotanical uses are not new—annatto extract has long been used by indigenous Caribbean and South American cultures to flavor, heal, and paint—faces and bodies included. When applied directly, its color is red.