A tall, perennial shrub, Bixa Orellana can grow up to 10 meters in height, bearing clusters of bright white and pink flowers at the tip of it’s branches. Spiky red-brown seed pods cluster in ovoid capsules, containing up to 45 seeds in a red aril. Fully matured, the seeds emerge from cracks in the hardened dried pods. Originally, some indigenous tribes of Central and South America began using the seeds for body paint and lip stick – thus giving it the nickname lipstick tree.
During the 17th century, the annatto dye was traded across the world and tropical areas – in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, Hawaii, and more. These nations even began cultivating it themselves for the coveted dyes, and it grows easily in subtropical to tropical climates. However, the majority of the production still lies within Latin America – in Peru, Brazil, and Mexico.
Before synthetic dyes, Bixa orellana was a powerhouse commercial plant for the pigment created from grinding it’s seeds. The pigment is a great substitute for synthetic food colorings as it doesn’t alter the taste or smell. The seeds themselves are used throughout many cuisines globally, adding a subtle flavor and aroma, along with a reddish-orange tinge. Although the seeds are relatively tasteless, they are great for enhancing the flavoring of various dishes, while also containing a fair amount of protein and healthy fats. From the coat of the seeds, a yellow color is yielded, and very likely you will have seen it’s use in the food industry as it is widely used as a coloring for margarine.
As a plant medicine, Achiote has been used in Ayurvedic practices, as well as parts of India where the shrub is revered for it’s therapeutic capacity. The pulp is known to cure cases of jaundice and other kidney diseases.
Interested in seeing more about this magnificent plant? You can take a detailed look through this video.
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