The tiny seeds, wrinkled and stripped off any trace of moisture, bled beautifully into the thick pool of oil. The color isn’t red. It’s orange. It’s deep, very deep, bloody orange. It’s quite remarkable how the seeds from a fruit that looks so otherworldly because of the stiff hairs that completely cover its skin can be used to color and flavor food. The brilliant achuete isn’t originally Filipino. Annatto or achiote is from South America. Thanks to the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco hundreds of years ago, the ships that bravely sailed across the Pacific introduced the natural food dye to the Filipino pantry and made it even more colorfully diverse.

As soon as the achuete seeds and garlic cloves started to sizzle in the hot oil, I took the pan off the heat and let the color bleed for a while longer. As the deep orange hue and and peppery flavors steeped, I happily dreamed of sotanghon soup and kare-kare — a stew of oxtail and tripe with ground rice and peanuts, vibrantly colored with achuete. Besa and Dorotan’s versatile achuete oil works incredibly well in sautés, soups and stews as well as grills and roasts. Use achuete oil in place of vegetable oil whenever you need a warm burst of orange color. The oil, when refrigerated, will keep for up to two weeks.

A is for achuete is the first in a series of posts about Filipino food words. So much is lost in translation, I know, but I hope this glossary will help those unfamiliar with Filipino food become more informed.


Achuete Oil


Achuete Oil Recipe
Recipe by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan from Memories of Philippine Kitchens

2 cups vegetable oil
1/2 cup achuete seeds
6 whole garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
2 ancho chilies, crushed, stemmed and seeded

Warm the oil and the remaining ingredients over medium heat. When it begins to bubble, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours. Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer and let cool. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.


Achuete Oil

  • Elizabeth Q

    Bravo, Jun! This is a great post. I am a fan of this recipe. I’m so glad you shared this. Since I tried it, I always have a bottle of achuete oil stashed and ready to go on roasts or anything grilled. Thanks for reminding us of the many uses of achuete! 

  • Annapet

    Thanks for this, Jun!  I’ve been in an achuete state of mind since making longaniza yesterday!

  • Abigail Caidoy

     Achuete seed is not available in Dubai we have the powder kind. 

  • Sean

    Wow, this is gorgeous. The only anattto/achiote I’ve ever come across is in the Goya aisle, and it’s never really called out to me. The color alone is incentive enough to try my hand at making some; better still it sounds delicious.   

  • Sean

    The only anatto/achiote I’ve come across is package variations in the Goya aisle. The beautiful color you’ve made is reason enough to try my hand at it; doesn’t hurt that it sounds so delicious too.  

  • m. k.

    fun idea, and great  photos, too!

  • Emily

    Wow I can almost taste the oil…it looks amazing and sounds so rich and fragrant. I’ll have to seek out some achuete seeds and make this soon!  

  • carolineadobo

    I don’t think I’ve seen fresh achuete before, where did you ever find the pods? They look so pretty with those  red hair, just like a rambutan.
    Jun, starting this glossary is great! I am looking forward to this series. B for Bagoong, perhaps? ;)

  • Whixkd

     is this also the rambutan fruit?

  • Stephanie Russell

     What an awesome addition to your blog — a glossary all about Filipino foods! I can’t wait to learn more!

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Carol!  The bed and breakfast where we stayed in the Big Island early this year for Dennis’ birthday was a coffee farm with lots of fruit trees.  One of the trees was an achuete tree.   I asked our host if I could pick one and prop it open to take a photograph.  They’re so interesting to look at.  Looks very similar to rambutan.  I think they’re ready to be used for food color once the fruit matures and splits open by itself.

  • Jun Belen

     I think it’s a big project and I hope I can sustain the interest.  Thank you, Stephanie.  Keep coming back for more!

  • Lala

    LOVE IT!  i attempted to make this once…with utter failure.  i shall try once again, just because of your post. :)

  • ShopCookMake

     My grandmother still cooks with this every day. She makes it weekly. When I say she adds it to everything I’m not exaggerating. I’m puertorican, we use it every day in our food. I’m glad that other cultures do too. But we just cook the ‘achiote’ seeds in oil, no other ingredients.  

  • Jun Belen

    Wow! It’s amazing how much alike we all are in some ways.  In this case, it’s our choice of natural food color.  Thank you for stopping by and for sharing.

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  • Amy Kim

    Your photos really are amazing!

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I’d never even heard of achuete until now… but I now know how to cook with it!  Thank you!

  • Weng Dumlao

    I never saw achuete pods before.  They look so much like rambutan.  Are they bigger or smaller than the rambutan?  I grew up with a lot of fruit in our backyard that I can’t find anymore whenever I visit the Philippines.  Aratiles, atis, kamias, makopa, iba, mansanitas, cheska (did I spell that right?) and a lot more I can’t remember.  I grew my own bananas, guava & malunggay here from seeds that I had to order in the UK.  My 4-year old malunggay just died this year.  That makes me sad because I had being using it for tinola. 

  • Renee

    Your photos are gorgeous! Can’t wait to see the rest of the alphabet. :) I’ve just discovered achiote, myself. I’m totally smitten! My recipe for (Yucatan, not Filipino)  achiote-marinated trout

  • Anonymous

    These seeds are used in many Hispanic dishes (sauces, chorizo), as well as a dye for yellow cheeses. Please be aware that these seeds cause gastric distress in some people, which is ironic since it’s also used to “treat” gastric distress caused by spiciness (I fall under the first group).

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  • Chez Us

    Jun, I am looking for these seeds.  Where did you find them in the Bay Area?  I was going to order some from Seattle, then saw your spicy post.  Thanks!  

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  • saberkite

    We used to have an achuete tree in my lola’s yard. Most of the fruits would be dry and my siblings and I would take them, crush the dry shell and soak the seeds in water. Little did we know then it’s something useful! Wonderful post Jun.

  • allyn

    what a great addition to your already fantastic blog.  i’m looking forward to going through the alphaet and learning more. i miss red rice from guam and this instantly took me back.  your photographs are a true inspiration in photography +  food culture. i’m a big fan.

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  • Gerrine Santos

    thanks for sharing this. :) i’m a young entrepreneur searching for ways to develop our business about grilled pork and chicken with java rice. this is very helpful. :)
    - Gerrine Santos

  • gina

    Hi Jun, will the ancho chile make the oil spicy?

  • Jun Belen

    Thank you, Gerrine for writing. Yes, achuete oil is indispensable for coloring java rice and barbecues, Best of luck to your restaurant business.

  • Jun Belen

    Gina, ancho chilies have an intense chili flavor with almost no heat. The oil isn’t spicy at all.

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  • victoria

    how about if using the powdered kind?