Annatto is a natural food dye, but it’s also packed with antioxidants and offers several health benefits. It’s a great alternative to synthetic food coloring and it can add flavor and vibrant color to soups, stews, sauces and marinades. This colorful ingredient is rich in carotenoids and may help boost immune function, prevent heart disease and improve eye health.
The bright red-orange paste and powder are used in Latin American, Caribbean and Filipino cuisines to impart bold color and flavor to dishes. The seeds are also used to make annatto oil that can be added to meat marinades. Annatto is native to the tropical regions of the Americas and has been used by indigenous people for centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. The seeds were used as ink for writing scriptures, body paint and a natural sunscreen, while the oil was used as an antibilious and antiemetic and as a substitute for blood in sacred rituals. Today, Bixa orellana is cultivated around the world for its edible and medicinal properties.
Research has shown that annatto can naturally increase antioxidant activity and protect against oxidative stress and aging, promote healthy bowel movements, help with digestive issues, strengthen bones, lower fevers, prevent neural tube defects, lower cholesterol and more. This versatile ingredient is also a rich source of carotenes and may help boost immunity, improve cardiovascular health and promote healthy skin.
One of the main annatto carotenoids, norbixin, has been linked to improved eyesight in mice and pigs. However, further human studies are needed to verify this benefit.