Planning to make a bunch of Hispanic or Caribbean recipes? Well, Friend, Achiote Oil is your weekend project. Many dishes in the Hispanic culture include achiote in some shape or form. Its oil is easy to make and even easier to use. The only warning I offer: don’t get it on anything you care about!
What is Achiote Oil?
Achiote oil is a condiment used to impart color and mild-flavor to several foods. It’s made by slowly simmering the achiote (ah-CHYO-tay), or annatto, seeds in a neutral-tasting oil to create a bright, orange-red condiment. Add different herbs or flavorings as desired, but the basic recipe consists of seeds and oil.
What is Achiote Oil used for?
Most often, achiote oil is used to add color to a recipe. Commonly used in Puerto Rican cuisine, it gives arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and pasteles (green banana and meat patties) their trademark orange hues. The oil is often a replacement for the artificial coloring found in store-bought seasoning blends, like sazón. It is most commonly used in savory dishes, but the most creative can probably work out a sweet use for it as well.
What are annatto seeds?
Achiote, or annatto in English, are the seeds harvested from the pods of the achiote tree. The pods themselves remind me a lot of the rambutan fruit or those prickly burrs the boys used to throw at us in grade school. They have spiky hook-like protrusions coming from a firm shell. That shell encases the many pebble-like seeds of the fruit.
Annatto is a natural coloring in many of the foods you eat on a daily basis. Often the orange cheese you love is colored by annatto. Likewise, ice creams, breads, and other dairy products derive their shades from the seeds. Achiote is what imparts the bright red color to famous Mexican dishes like cochinita pibil and carne al pastor.
Annatto smells tea-like, almost astringent. It has a peppery, yet nutty, flavor. Overheating the seeds creates a very bitter, acrid oil which is practically inedible. It is crucial when making this oil not to heat the seeds too fast or for too long.
What do I need to make Achiote Oil?
One of the easiest recipes on this site, to make achiote oil, you only- technically- need two ingredients: annatto seeds and extra-virgin olive oil. Because I’m always down for a hit of garlic, I also add garlic to my oil. This is entirely optional, however.
Can I add different flavors to the oil?
The only limits, when it comes to how to flavor your achiote oil, are your imagination and whether or not you have enough pantry space for storing it. As I mentioned before, I love to infuse the flavor of garlic into my oil. Most likely, if I’m using this oil, I’m also using garlic along with it, so why not kill two birds with one seed?
Herbs and spices, like oregano, black pepper, or spicy habaneros, work well infused into this oil. While I like to keep to the flavor profiles of Puerto Rican dishes, it’s totally fine for you to adapt the flavoring to any cuisine you cook. For Italian vibes, add basil, thyme, or marjoram. Indian cuisines benefit from the addition of cardamom, cumin, and/or a garam masala combo. Asian does well infused with ginger, garlic, and a hit of gochugaru, which will make it even brighter.
In a small saucepan add a couple of cloves of garlic to your oil of choice.
What’s the best oil to use when making Achiote Oil?
A neutral-tasting oil is what you want to use for this recipe.
I prefer olive oil because it’s one of the healthier choices, but also because it is what I typically use when cooking. Since I never use this oil to deep-fry, I don’t concern myself with smoke points. Other alternatives are peanut oil (if allergies aren’t a concern), vegetable oil, lard, or canola oil.
Avoid butter or any dairy that requires refrigeration. There’s too much to fuss over with having to keep it appropriately chilled and all that drama. The exception to this is ghee, which is a shelf-stable, clarified butter. Though the flavor of ghee would compete with the annatto’s mild flavor, making the effort a waste of time. I mean, that’s in my humble opinion.
Avoid oils that are fickle, too: flaxseed, walnut, or sesame. Reserve those for your salads or stir-fried dishes. Not only will their unique flavors muddy the achiote oil, but they also don’t serve you well in recipes that require sauteing.
How much achiote do I add to the oil?
Once the oil is warm, add the annatto seeds to the pot.
The amount you add depends upon how much color you want your oil to provide to your dishes. My go-to is a 1/2 cup of seeds to 1 cup of oil, solely because I want as much color as possible. I think it’s the best ratio to use when going for maximum impact without adding too much oil.
Adjust the quantities of oil and seeds as needed- especially if you want to make a lot of achiote oil.
How long do I simmer the Achiote Oil?
Chillllllld, the way this oil stinks up a house when the achiote is burnt is something ungodly!
Because annatto turns acrid the longer it is cooked, heating the oil slowly and over a low flame is essential. Impatiently cranking the heat up to fry the annatto is the last thing you want to do. Use the garlic cloves as your guide. Little bubbles that come off of the cloves mean all is well. If the garlic is browning, your oil is too hot. Just pull the pot off of the stove and allow the seeds to steep instead of warm.
I think of it as giving my seeds a soak in a warm oil bath. You want to infuse the oil with the flavor and color; you don’t want to fry the achiote.
Once the oil heats for 15-20 minutes, turn the stove off and allow the seeds to sit in the oil for another 5-10 minutes. You want to leach as much of that color out of them as possible. Treat it like you do tea leaves. Let them do their thing in the oil.
What’s the best way to strain the seeds?
Achiote loves to leave sediment, so I try to strain my oil through as fine a mesh strainer as I can. Unless you use cheesecloth in addition to the strainer, you’ll still end up with sediment at the bottom of your bottle of achiote oil, but it’s nothing too overwhelming.
Please. For the love of all that is holy, pour carefully. The bright red-orange color that’s mesmerizing you stains so fiercely it’s not even funny. I put the jar into which I’ll store the oil into my kitchen sink before pouring the oil into it. Memories of oil spilling onto my white quartz countertops still make me teary-eyed. Likewise, this oil stains skin, clothing, and hair…don’t ask.
How do I store the oil?
Once the oil has finished steeping and has cooled down a bit, pour it through a strainer into a glass bottle with a funnel. Glass is best as it doesn’t stain as a plastic bottle would. So, unless you have a dedicated achiote oil bottle, go for one that won’t be damaged by the pigment. Also, a jar with a tight-fitting lid is ideal. In case the bottle tips over, you want to have a lid on it that won’t leak. See my trauma story above.
Store the oil the same as you store your other cooking oils: in a cool, dark kitchen or pantry area. Avoid extreme temperatures that cause the oil to heat or cool dramatically. Both change the structure and, eventually, the flavor of the oil. Don’t refrigerate the oil. One: because it’s not necessary. Two: pulling it in and out of the fridge leads to more bacteria developing in the bottle.
How long is Achiote Oil good for?
Uh…forever. Seriously. I have yet to go to use this oil and discover it’s gone rancid. Part of the reason why is the lack of dairy or anything that can “go bad”. The other reason is that I use it up pretty fast.
The general rule of thumb is to use it within a year of making it. It isn’t hard to do. Store it properly, use it frequently, and it’s safe.
Can I freeze it?
I mean, yeah, you can freeze any oil, but you don’t need to. Because it is shelf-stable for a year, there’s no viable reason to have to freeze it. But, if your heart desires, do your thing. Remember, though, the oil needs to be defrosted before using. Shake it after it thaws to combine it thoroughly, too.
How do I use Achiote Oil?
Use achiote oil in any recipe that calls for oil, especially if you want to add a little color to the dish.
Pan-fry your home fries or eggs for breakfast in it to impart color and a nutty flavor. Marinate whole chicken in an achiote oil marinade to give it a beautiful golden hue after roasting it. Of course, the old classic Arroz con Gandules wouldn’t be the same without a hit of this oil. There are endless ways to use this oil.
Make a batch of achiote oil this week, and stay tuned for a classic recipe that relies on it. In the meantime, share the recipe with your crew. Be sure to pin it to your relevant boards, as well. And don’t forget! Don’t get it on things you want to keep!
How to Make Achiote Oil
- fine-mesh strainer
- sauce pan
- 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) olive oil or similar neutral-tasting oil
- 2 cloves garlic smashed, optional
- 1/2 cup (80 grams) annatto seeds (achiote)
- Add the olive oil and garlic cloves to a small saucepan. Bring the oil and garlic to warm over low heat.
- Once little bubbles begin to surround the garlic cloves, add the annatto seeds to the oil. Use a metal (non-staining) spoon to stir the seeds into the oil.
- Heat the annatto in the oil for 15-20 minutes, or until the oil turns a very deep red-orange color. If, while the oil is heating, you notice the garlic is starting to brown, reduce the heat or remove the pot from the stove altogether.
- After 15-20 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and allow the annatto seeds to steep in the oil for 5-10 minutes more.
- Insert the narrow end of a funnel into a pint-sized jar that has a tight-fitting lid. Line a few layers of cheesecloth, or place a fine-mesh strainer, in the funnel. Carefully pour the achiote oil into the funnel to strain the seeds and garlic. Discard what remains in the funnel.
- Seal the jar and store in a cool, dark area of the kitchen or pantry.Use as needed.
- Optional flavorings include: dried herbs, peppers, and/or whole spices.
- Achiote seeds and oil stains badly. Be sure to use metal or glass equipment or utensils to prepare the oil.
- Achiote oil will keep for up to one year at room temperature.
- The oil can be frozen, but it is not recommended. Avoid refrigerating the oil as it reduces the shelf-life.