Annatto oil is made with the seeds of achiote trees, which are found in the tropical regions of the Americas. Annatto is also called achiote or roucou. The seeds are used to produce an orange food coloring and slightly nutty flavored oil.
These seeds are used in Latin America as a replacement for saffron in certain Spanish dishes. They have also been used as hair color for centuries by the Tsachilas, or Colorados, a coastal indigenous group of Ecuador.
Replacement for Annatto Oil
If you want to make annatto oil but can't find the seeds, just mix 2 tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil with 1 tablespoon of ground annatto or ground sweet paprika.
Instructions for making Annatto Oil
Heat 2 tablespoons of annatto seeds in 1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir occasionally until the oil turns orange. Store in a small jar or container.
How to use annatto oil
You can literally substitute annatto oil for any other type of oil in all of your cooking. Sautee raw dry rice in a tablespoon of it before cooking to get a pleasant yellow-orange color on your plate, or use it to make Ecuadorian llapingachos by following the recipe link below.
The Tsáchila or Colorado Indians
The men of this ethnic group traditionally wear a unique hairstyle. They use the seeds from the annatto trees to color their hair and shape it. This was believed to protect them from smallpox during the Spanish invasion. The early Spanish colonists called them Colorados, meaning "colored red" because they would cover their hair and skin with the annatto dye. In recent years, they have abandoned this traditional hairstyle for the most part-- bus drivers hated those red stains they left on the seats! However, you can still see their traditional hairstyle in certain parts of Ecuador.