Guatemala's Secret Ingredient

Achiote is a staple in Guatemalan cooking, widely used in sauces, stews, meat marinades, and desserts. Achiote is technically a product of the Annatto seed, harvested from the Annatto tree; but when used in cooking, the seeds are referred to as Achiote. The seed is mainly used for adding a rich red/orange color to dishes, and is in fact, not used for flavor or aroma. Many Mayan dishes would lack visual appeal if not for achiote. The Annatto tree is grown in Guatemala and is a native tree to the tropical regions of the Americas.

Since Achiote is mostly used for coloring dishes, it is important not to overuse the spice, or else the result will altar the color and the flavor will taste overly “earthy” and bitter. The amount used correlates to the desired color you are looking for. A small amount results in a yellow color, while tablespoons will result in a thick rich red coloring. Achiote pairs well with dishes that incorporate oregano, cloves, cumin, allspice, paprika, and citrus.

Achiote can be found at most grocery stores (even in the United States)! It is available whole, ground, or in paste form. The ground form can be used as a rub for meats or dissolved to make a paste. The achiote powder only needs to be mixed water, lime juice, or vinegar to form the paste.