Achiote Oil is a commonly used Puerto Rican oil infused with annatto seeds or ground annatto powder. This traditional recipe requires only 2 ingredients and less than 30 minutes of your time!
This post may contain affiliate links; this means if you purchase an item linked, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Click here to learn more about my disclosure policy.
This recipe was inspired by my Authentic Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo, as it's a wonderful addition in both flavor and color to the popular chicken and rice dish. Achiote oil is also a fabulous substitute for the oil in this Arroz con Gandules recipe.
If you're interested in exploring more Puerto Rican cuisine, be sure to start with this collection of my favorites.
What are Annatto seeds?
Annatto seeds come from the funky looking fruit that grows on achiote trees. Achiote trees are common in Mexico, Central and South America as well as regions in the Caribbean (like Puerto Rico!)
The seeds from the achiote trees can be used to make achiote oil (like we're doing today), pastes, and even food dye as it has a rich red/orange color.
Because of this, Annatto seeds can be used in a similar fashion to turmeric or saffron. They also produce an earthy, pepper taste similar to paprika or pepper when cooked with.
Where to use it
Achiote oil is made from annatto seeds infused in a neutral oil, resulting in a flavored oil that can be used to develop flavor and color in many different savory (and occasionally sweet) dishes.
Here are some of my favorite recipes to sub out oil for achiote oil:
- Authentic Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo
- Puerto Rican Rice & Beans (Arroz con Gandules)
- Cheesy One Pot Empanada Rice
I know that infusing oil for the first time can feel intimidating, but I promise you, you can't mess this one up.
Here's what you'll need to get started:
- Annatto seeds
- Neutral oil (vegetable, canola, even olive oil will work if it's all you have)
See recipe card for exact quantities.
How to make it
Start with a heavy bottomed frying pan over medium heat.
To that, add your oil and annatto seeds.
Once things start simmering lightly, set your timer for 5 minutes.
At this point you can turn off the heat, move the pan off the heat and let it cool for at least 10 minutes.
Now it's time to strain out your seeds from the oil and just like that you've got beautifully infused Achiote oil you can use to add color and flavor to just about anything!
Keep your oil in an airtight container at room temperature.
Hint: make sure to be careful while you handle the ingredients and oil as annatto seeds stain easily. The oil will stain extremely easily as well.
Ground vs. whole Annatto seeds
Not all achiote oil is created equally. And by equally I mean in the same way. Depending on the household or restaurant you visit, the achiote oil in use could have been made using whole annatto seeds or ground seeds.
Honestly, both methods work well and result in deliciously infused oil.
A few things to consider when deciding what to use:
- Accessibility - for whatever reason, finding whole annatto seeds is easier than finding the powder in my area. If you can find the powder more easily, use that!
- Simplicity - the process of straining out seeds can be messy - using ground powder eliminates this step. In addition, the ground powder can be a wonderful seasoning to use in all kinds of dishes and much easier to use in powder form.
If using ground annatto seeds instead of whole ones, skip the straining step and simply store the oil once it cools.
Achiote vs. Annatto
At this point you've heard me say annatto and achiote enough to be wondering "what the heck is the difference!?"
Good question! The two words are actually interchangeable.
As we discussed earlier, annatto seeds come from the achiote tree, but can also occasionally be called achiote seeds. Similarly, the trees can occasionally be referred to as "annatto trees".
So whether you want to call this oil achiote oil or annatto oil, it's all groovy.
What type of oil to use
In general, I like to use a neutral tasting oil when making achiote oil. This is because the neutral oil allows the flavor of the annatto seeds to shine through.
Additionally, a more neutral oil usually has a higher smoke point, meaning there are more options for what kinds of dishes you can use the infused oil in.
That said, in a pinch, I've used olive oil and been really happy with the flavor/color.
If you've never tried annatto seeds or achiote oil, you may be wondering "why would I infuse oil with this random seed?"
Wonder no more! Achiote oil will infuse whatever you're cooking with a nutty, sweet, peppery flavor similar to paprika.
It's also going to add a lovely orange/red hue to your food - almost like you've used some expensive strands of saffron or sprinkled in turmeric powder.
So if you like to cook with spices like paprika, turmeric, pepper, and/or saffron, you're going to love achiote oil.
Store your achiote oil in an airtight container at room temperature.
You can use your oil for up to a month. Just think of all the colorful and delicious dishes you can make in that time!
I don't recommend freezing your oil.
Where to find Annatto seeds
My favorite place to shop for annatto seeds is my local Spanish grocery store.
If you don't have one/can't find one, you can also find them online.
Once you've infused your oil with the Annatto seeds, it's important to be careful with it as it can stain.
That beautiful red/orange color will leave a permanent mark on almost anything it touches, so handle it with steady hands,