In the Arboretum Today
by Alfredo Chiri
ANNATTO - Bixa orellana - Bixaceae
Donated by: Fullerton Arboretum and planted in 1995 (r.f.-09)
Common names: Achote, Annato, Achiote, Urucu, Lipstick tree, Sa ti, Hot dieu mau, Ku-xub, Rocou, Orleaan, Dok kham, Achwete.
The Annatto tree or shrub can vary between 6 to 18 feet tall, with adense rounded shape and short trunk; bark dark brown; leaves green; inflorescence with pink flowers to two inches in diameter; turning into capsule ovoid, covered with reddish-brown soft spines; seeds covered with abundant orange-red pulp. Plant lives up to about 50 years. The name of the specie was given in honor of Francisco Orellana, the conquistador, who explored the Amazon river in 1541.
The reddish-orange seeds inside a prickly heart shaped pod are crushed to obtain the orange yellow pigments bixin and norbixin as dye for the food and cosmetic industry. The part used is the dried pulp of the fruit.
The plant is a native to tropical America, possibly from the Southwest of the Amazonia. Found from Mexico to Brazil and Argentina and in the Caribbean. Today, Annatto is grown in the Philippines and Asian countries.
Annatto seeds are used in Latin America for staining food. In the Caribbean, the seeds are fried usually with fat; after discarding the
seeds, the then golden-yellow is used to fry vegetables or meat. Annatto has been used as a substitute for saffron.
The original Aztec drinking chocolate is reported to have contained annatto seeds. Using annatto to deepen the color of chocolate was common in Europe until the 17th century, and today it is used occasionally to give butter and cheese a deep yellow color.
In today's Asia, the annatto seeds are mostly used in Filipino and Vietnamese cooking, where they are used in seasonings or marinades for grilled or fried pork meats, resulting in a bright orange meat surface.
Indigenous people in many North and South American countries have used annatto seeds as body paint during festivities and also as a fabric dye. The entire plant has been used against fever and dysentery. The seeds are used against sinusitis, asthma, uteritis, constipation, and skin disorders.
The leaves have been used to color food, but in general, they will give a modestly green color. In the wild, leaf colors other than green are rare, but gardeners have succeeded in breeding cultivars with red colored leaves.
The plant adapts easily to poor acid soils. It does not tolerate too much shade but prefers full sun. The plants are susceptible to drought and low temperatures. It also accepts temporary flooding.