6 Amazing Benefits Of Annatto, How To Use It, & Side Effects

Spice up your daily meals and see your body reap the benefits with this earthy condiment.

Reviewed by Mayuri Aavula, Nutritionist Mayuri Aavula Mayuri AavulaNutritionist facebook_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach Varsha Patnaik MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 2 years
Edited by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health linkedin_icon Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Payal Karnik MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 2.5 years

Artificial food colorants are always a concern as they have too many health risks. Here is where natural food colorants and dyes like annatto may help. There are numerous benefits of annatto. It is a pigment extracted from the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa Orellana). This dye is mostly used to impart a yellowish tinge to popcorn, store-bought cheese, and many other spices.

If you are worried about the health risks of artificial color and want to switch to natural options, you may try annatto. Read this article to know more about annatto, its uses, and possible side effects. Scroll down.

protip_icon Know Your Ingredient: Annatto

What Is It?
An orange-red food condiment and coloring agent derived from Bixa Orellana tree seeds.

What Are Its Benefits?
It may strengthen bones, promote vision health, and help reduce the risk of age-related cardiac issues.

Who Can Consume It?
It is considered likely safe for most people when consumed in moderation.

How Often?
Though there are not enough studies about the limit of Annatto consumption, some researchers suggest you can consume 600 mg of it per day.

Since Annatto can affect your blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should limit its consumption.

What Is Annatto?

Annatto is a natural food coloring agent and condiment. It is made from the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana) native to South and Central America. The achiote tree yields a heart-shaped brown fruit covered with spiky hairs that contains many red seeds. The red flesh of these seeds contains the pigment-yielding carotenoids.

protip_icon Trivia
The annatto tree is believed to originate from the tropical regions of Mexico and Brazil.

What Does Annatto Taste Like?

Annatto seeds as powder and paste for health benefits
Image: Shutterstock

Annatto is usually available as powder, paste, liquid, and essential oil. It doesn’t have a specific taste to itself when used as a food colorant. It is also used as a condiment in certain culinary preparations, where it adds to the dish an earthy, peppery flavor with a hint of bitterness. It also has a mild floral scent similar to that of nutmeg.

protip_icon Trivia
The earliest known record of annatto’s use in cheese is in a 1743 Dutch book, Household Words.

Annatto has important cosmetic and culinary uses. Let’s check them out in the next section.

Uses Of Annatto

  • As A Natural Food-Colorant

Annatto’s primary use is as a natural food-colorant (1). It is used to give various cheeses their bright yellow color. The seeds are usually crushed and soaked in water to form a paste once the water evaporates. This brightly-colored paste is then added to various soups, gravies, cheese, butter, margarine, cakes, and packaged popcorn to enhance their color (2), (3).

Annatto is also used as a replacement for the expensive saffron in culinary preparations all over the world. It even is used as a food dye in other commercial packaged food products like smoked fish, microwave popcorn, beverages, and other varieties of packaged food. Annatto is non-toxic and safer than most other artificial food colorants and additives.

  • As A Condiment

Annatto is also used as a condiment to enhance the flavor of dishes. It is usually used at the beginning of cooking. It is mixed with other herbs and spices to impart a wholesome flavor. It is added to marinade pastes to render a smoky flavor to fish, meat, and poultry preparations. It also is an important ingredient in cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish.

  • As Cooking Oil
Woman cooking with annatto oil
Image: Shutterstock

Annatto seeds are commonly steeped in cooking oil to make achiote oil or achiotina lard. It infuses the oil with its rich color and flavor. Cooking or sautéing with this oil or lard renders a beautiful rich tint and flavor to soups, stew, fish, meat, rice, and paella.

  • As Commercial Dye And Paint

The isolation of the natural yellow-orange dye from annatto has use in non-culinary industries too. The dye exhibits low toxicity and high biodegradability. It is often used in the cosmetic, textile, and leather industries ( 4). Annatto seeds are also used to create natural fabric dyes. Annatto’s use in the cosmetic industry has earned it the nickname the lipstick tree.

A blogger, reflects on her experience with annatto seeds for dyeing, stating, “The colour is pretty lovely, and in the future if I dye with annatto I will grind the seeds up right off the bat to ensure that more of the bixin is released into the dye liquor (i).”

Annatto oil offers antioxidant benefits in body care products. It adds a rich, sunny color to creams, lotions, and shampoos. Annatto is also used in household products such as floor wax, furniture polish, and shoe polish. The dye has also been used to color wood, rattan, and wickerwork.

  • Tribal Art And Body Painting

Annatto has been used by tribals and the ancient Mayans and Aztecs for a range of medicinal and non-medicinal uses. The red dye was considered sacred in most tribal rituals. Many ancient Mayan scriptures seem to have been written with annatto juice.

Annatto has also been found to be used in ancient art, crafts, and murals as orange-red ink and color. Indigenous people and tribal communities still use the pulp emulsion in oil as hair dyes, lipsticks, or body paints. The annatto-based body paint also seems to repel insects and act as a sunscreen due to the UV-filtering properties of its carotenoid pigments (5). However, more information is warranted in this regard.

Apart from these uses, annatto is also known to offer important health benefits. Keep reading to know more.

Potential Health Benefits Of Annatto

Annatto has been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of diabetes and certain skin conditions due to its natural antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

1. Has Antioxidant Properties

Elderly woman jogging with good heart health and reduced diabetes
Image: Shutterstock

Annatto contains carotenoids and other phytochemicalsi  Chemicals compounds found in plants that help resist fungi and bacteria. They are rich in antioxidants. that possess antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help fight toxicfree radicalsi  Unstable oxygen molecules formed as a byproduct of normal metabolism that can cause harm to other healthy cells. , which may otherwise increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, brain disorders, and other chronic health conditions (6), (7).

2. Has Antimicrobial Properties

Annatto extracts have been shown to inhibit the growth of various bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens (8). Annatto may also have antifungal properties and may help increase the shelf-life of breads (9). Pork patties treated with annatto powder were found to undergo less microbial contamination after 14 days in storage (10).

3. May Reduce Cancer Risk

Annatto’s anti-carcinogenici  A substance used in cancer treatments that helps prevent the growth of new cancerous cells and provides protection against existing ones. properties have been attributed to its various plant components. These include tocotrienolsi  Chemicals present in vitamin E essential for the body and brain function found in leafy vegetables. , a type of vitamin E, and carotenoids like bixin and norbixin (11), (12). Test tube studies have found annatto extracts to be effective in suppressing the growth of cancer cells. The extracts could also induce cell death in pancreas, liver, human prostate, and skin cancer cells (13), (14), (15), (11). While all these findings seem promising, more research and human studies are warranted in this regard.

4. May Promote Vision Health

Woman with vision problem squinting
Image: Shutterstock

Annatto is high in carotenoids that may help improve eye health (16). Pigs and mice supplemented with norbixin for 3 months reported a decrease in the accumulation of N-retinylidene-N-retinylethanolamine (A2E). A2E is a byproduct of the retinal cycle responsible for vision loss in the elderly (17). Bixin, another annatto carotenoid, was found to help prevent and treat retinal damage (18). However, further human studies are needed to recommend annatto as a health supplement or as a potential treatment for vision issues.

5. May Help Prevent Age-Related Cardiac Issues

The tocotrienoli  Chemicals present in vitamin E essential for the body and brain function found in leafy vegetables. in annatto may help reduce inflammation and age-related heart issues (19). Animal studies have also hinted at the potential effect of annatto seed extracts in decreasing blood triglyceride levelsi  The level of triglyceride (a type of fat) in blood that can cause heart diseases and strokes if it is too high. (20). However, more studies are warranted to understand annatto’s exact mechanism of action on heart health.

6. May Help Improve Bone Health

Annatto-derived tocotrienoli  Chemicals present in vitamin E essential for the body and brain function found in leafy vegetables. was found to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity and improve bone health in osteoporosisi  A medical condition in which bones become frail and brittle. Bones lose tissues and resist the formation of new bones. in diabetic mice (21). In another rat study, annatto tocotrienoli  Chemicals present in vitamin E essential for the body and brain function found in leafy vegetables. was found to reduce complications of metabolic syndrome or bone loss caused due to osteoporosisi  A medical condition in which bones become frail and brittle. Bones lose tissues and resist the formation of new bones. (22).

Annatto seems to offer promising benefits for human health. But how strong is its nutrition profile? Learn more about the same in the next section.

Annatto Nutrition Facts

Annatto contains a minimal amount of calories and provides virtually zero energy. While Annatto is not a significant source of macronutrients, it plays a vital role in enhancing the color and flavor of various dishes while offering a hint of essential fats. It has a total lipid (fat) content of 1 gram, constituting a mere 2% of the Daily Value (DV). Notably, it contains 0 grams of carbohydrates and is suitable for low-carb diets (23).

Further, annatto contains 34.9 milligrams of sodium and contributes to just 1% of the DV, which is relatively low. It also comprises 0.5 grams of saturated fat, representing 3% of the DV (23).

Possible Side Effects Of Annatto

Woman experiencing IBS for annatto side effect
Image: Shutterstock

While annatto appears safe for most people, one must also be wary of its potential side effects.

  • May Trigger Allergic Reactions

Although not very common, people allergic to plants in the Bixaceae family may experience allergies with the ingestion or use of annatto (24). In a study, a child with a history of allergic rhinitisi  A medical condition in which the inner membrane of the nose becomes inflamed, causing cough, sneezing, and congestion. developed serious asthmatic conditions after intake of food containing annatto (25).

Many individuals could be unaware of the inclusion of annatto in the food industry as a food dye in cheese, ice-creams, and other food items. Hence, they may attribute any adverse reaction to that particular food instead of annatto itself( 26). Hence, it is important to read through the ingredients list of any packaged or dairy product to avoid any allergies associated with annatto or other food additives.

  • May Cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In a study, a woman was found to experience IBS symptoms following intake of food supplemented with annatto (27 ). Her symptoms included diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. As annatto is not scrutinized by the FDA, it is important to be aware of this possible side effect. Ensure you take it only in moderation. However, more research is warranted to further understand the role of annatto in IBS (28).

  • May Cause Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

There is less information on the safety of annatto during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Hence, it is important to be mindful of what you eat as your body is more prone to food sensitivities during this period. Stay safe and avoid annatto during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Safety Precautions To Consider Before Taking Annatto

  • Diabetes

Annatto has been found to alter blood glucose levels in certain animal studies (29), (30). Those with diabetes must be vigilant about their blood glucose levels while consuming foods with annatto. They may also be required to alter the dosage of corresponding medications. It is best to consult a doctor before including annatto in your diet.

  • Surgery

Since annatto can possibly affect your blood sugar levels, it may hamper your pre-and post-surgery conditions. Hence, it is advisable to stop taking annatto at least 2 weeks before any scheduled surgery. It is also important to notify your doctor of your annatto intake in case of any emergency surgical procedure.

Infographic: Benefits Of Annatto For Skin

Annatto exhibits antibacterial and antifungal properties that help improve several skin conditions. It is also rich in antioxidants that benefit skin health. This natural food dye may fight against wrinkles and other signs of skin aging effectively. The seeds and powdered annatto have been used in many cosmetic products and natural remedies. Click on the infographic below to learn more about the benefits of annatto for skin.

benefitss of annatto for skin (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Annatto’s benefits are gaining popularity the world over. This pigment, extracted from the seed of the achiote tree, is a healthier substitute for synthetic food colors. It is mostly used to impart color to popcorn and cheese. Annatto has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It also reduces the risk of cancer, promotes eye health, and helps manage age-related cardiac issues. Annatto also improves bone health. However, there are a few possible side effects of annatto. It may trigger allergic reactions, cause irritable bowel syndrome, and cause negative effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Hence, use it with caution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is annatto the same as paprika?

No, paprika is another spice made of ground dried red pepper. Paprika is sometimes used as a substitute for annatto and vice versa as both impart the same red color to foods.

Is annatto the same as achiote?

Annatto is sometimes referred to as achiote, as it is the pigment derived from achiote seeds.

Is annatto vegan?

Yes, annatto is vegan. It is derived from the seeds of the achiote plant.

Can annatto cause migraines?

Yes, anecdotal evidence suggests that annatto may cause migraines.

Is annatto high in histamine?

No, currently there are no studies that suggest that annatto is high in histamine.

Key Takeaways

  • Annatto is a natural food coloring agent, and condiments made from the achiote tree seeds impart a yellowish tinge to the food.
  • Annatto can impart a smoky and peppery flavor to the dishes.
  • It has many potential health benefits due to its rich antioxidant profile, and antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties.
annatto benefits

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

Uncover the remarkable health benefits of annatto in this video! From enhancing digestion to promoting radiant skin, explore the incredible advantages of incorporating this natural wonder into your lifestyle. Watch now!

Personal Experience: Source


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Annatto: Eco-Friendly and Potential Source for Natural Dye
  2. Studies on Application of Annatto (Bixa Orellena L.) Dye Formulations in Dairy Products
  3. Colorants in Cheese Manufacture: Production, Chemistry, Interactions, and Regulation
  4. Phytochemistry Biological Activities and Potential of Annatto in Natural Colorant Production for Industrial Applications – A Review
  5. Antigenotoxic and Antimutagenic Potential of an Annatto Pigment (norbixin) against Oxidative Stress
  6. In Vitro Antioxidant Activity of Bixa orellana (Annatto) Seed Extract
  7. Antioxidants from Annatto Seeds as Possible Inhibitory Agents of the Hepatotoxicity Induced by the Antitumor Agent Cisplatin
  8. Antimicrobial Properties of Commercial Annatto Extracts against Selected Pathogenic Lactic acid and Spoilage Microorganisms
  9. In Vitro Evaluation of Antimold Activity of Annatto Natural Dye and Its Effects on Microbial, Physicochemical, and Sensory Properties of Bread
  10. Effects of Annatto (Bixa orellana L.) Seeds Powder on Physicochemical Properties Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of Pork Patties during Refrigerated Storage
  11. Annatto Tocotrienol Induces a Cytotoxic Effect on Human Prostate Cancer PC3 Cells via the Simultaneous Inhibition of Src and Stat3
  12. Bixin Triggers Apoptosis of Human Hep3B Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells: An Insight to Molecular and IN SILICO Approach
  13. Biochemical Behaviour of Norbixin during In Vitro DNA Damage Induced by Reactive Oxygen Species
  14. Systemic Administration of the Apocarotenoid Bixin Protects Skin against Solar UV-induced Damage through Activation of NRF2
  15. Vitamin E δ-tocotrienol Sensitizes Human Pancreatic Cancer Cells to TRAIL-induced Apoptosis through Proteasome-mediated Down-regulation of c-FLIP
  16. Carotenoids in Human Nutrition and Health
  17. Norbixin Protects Retinal Pigmented Epithelium Cells and Photoreceptors against A2E-Mediated Phototoxicity In Vitro and In Vivo
  18. Annatto Prevents Retinal Degeneration Induced by Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress in Vitro and in Vivo
  19. Tocotrienol is a Cardioprotective Agent against Ageing-associated Cardiovascular Disease and its Associated Morbidities
  20. Effects of Bixa orellana L. Seeds on Hyperlipidemia
  21. Annatto-extracted Tocotrienols Improve Glucose Homeostasis and Bone Properties in High-fat diet-induced Type 2 Diabetic Mice by Decreasing the Inflammatory Response
  22. Exploring the Potential of Tocotrienol from Bixa orellana as a Single Agent targeting Metabolic Syndrome and Bone Loss
  24. The Role of Natural Color Additives in Food Allergy
  25. Annatto Seed Hypersensitivity in a Pediatric Patient
  26. Allergy for Cheese: Evidence for an IgE-mediated Reaction from the Natural dye Annatto
  27. Annatto and IBS
  28. Annatto Diet and The Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  29. Hypoglycaemic Activity of Bixa orellana Extract in the Dog
  30. Bixa orellana (annatto) Exerts a Sustained Hypoglycemic Effect in Experimental Diabetes mellitus in Rats
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Mayuri Aavula

Mayuri AavulaNutritionist

Mayuri Aavula is one of the top nutritionists in Hyderabad, India, and has won several awards and accolades. She has 6 years of experience and started TruDiet in 2016 to provide diet care services to popular film and TV personalities. She has also featured in many nutrition awareness campaigns in print media, All India Radio, and other television channels, including...read full bio

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