Achiote paste Uses

Achiote paste, also known as recado rojo, is a popular ingredient in Mexican and Latin American cuisines. Made from annatto seeds, it imparts a bright red-orange color and earthy, peppery flavor to dishes.

Achiote paste uses

Achiote paste has many culinary uses thanks to its versatile flavor and vibrant hue. It is commonly used as a marinade, rub, sauce, coloring agent, and flavor enhancer.

Achiote paste is a thick, smooth blend of ground annatto seeds combined with other spices and ingredients like garlic, oregano, cumin, citrus juice, and more.

The base ingredient, annatto seeds, come from the achiote tree which is native to tropical regions of the Americas. They are small, red seeds that are very hard. Ground annatto seeds give dishes an earthy, slightly sweet and peppery flavor.

When annatto seeds are processed into a paste with other ingredients, the result is a bright red-orange condiment with a more complex flavor profile. Common additions like garlic, citrus juice, and Mexican oregano give achiote paste tangy, herbal, and aromatic qualities.

This versatile paste can be used in various ways to impart flavor and vivid color to meats, rice dishes, stews, and more.

Benefits of Achiote Paste

Beyond just appearance and taste, achiote paste has some notable health benefits:

  • Rich in antioxidants like carotenoids which can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Provides vitamin A, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin C, iron, and calcium
  • Anti-microbial effects that fight off harmful pathogens
  • May support heart health by improving cholesterol levels

So while it certainly makes food more appetizing, achiote paste also boosts the nutritional content of dishes.

How to Make Achiote Paste

Making homemade achiote paste allows you full control over the flavor. You can adjust the level of heat and garlicky, citrusy tastes to your preferences.

Here is an easy achiote paste recipe:


  • 1/4 cup annatto seeds
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Juice from 1 orange or 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp water (optional)


  1. In a skillet over low heat, toast the annatto seeds for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Grind them finely in a spice grinder or blender.
  2. Add the ground seeds and remaining ingredients to a food processor or blender. Puree into a smooth, thick paste, adding water if needed for blending.
  3. Store homemade achiote paste in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

The resulting flavorful, crimson paste is then ready to use in all sorts of dishes!

How to Use Achiote Paste

Thanks to its versatility, achiote paste has many applications. Here are some of the most popular uses:

As a Marinade or Rub

Achiote paste makes an excellent marinade base and dry rub. Its tangy citrus notes, warming spices, and bright hue give meats wonderful flavor and visual appeal.

To use it as a wet marinade:

  • Combine achiote paste with lime juice, oil, garlic and spices
  • Marinate beef, pork, chicken, or fish for 1-12 hours

For a dry rub:

  • Generously season meat or fish with the paste 1 hour before cooking

In Stews and Braises

Integrating a dollop of achiote paste into braises and stews like pozole, mole sauce, birria, or tinga builds incredible depth of flavor. It brings a richness that beautifully balances out other Mexican spices.

For Color and Flavor in Rice

Stirring just a small amount of achiote paste into rice during cooking gives it an alluring orange-red tint. The earthy annatto taste also deliciously flavors rice side dishes.

As a Base for Sauces and Salsas

Mixing achiote paste with tomatoes, garlic, citrus juice, and chilies makes a fast and flavor-packed Mexican sauce. Thin it with chicken or beef broth for a vibrant gravy.

To Season Beans and Lentils

The moderate spiciness and tang of achiote cuts through the richness of legumes. Mix in a teaspoon or two when simmering pintos, black beans, chickpeas, or lentils.

As a Soup Base

Much like stews and braises, a dollop of paste stirred into soups provides a burst of earthy flavor and beautiful color. It's especially tasty in chicken tortilla or albondigas soup.

For Frying

In Yucatan cuisine, next-level flavor and color comes from frying in a lard spiked with achiote called manteca de pibil. Make your own by heating annatto paste in melted lard.

Key Takeaway: Thanks to its adaptability, achiote paste can be integrated into all sorts of Mexican and Latin dishes as a marinade, flavor enhancer, coloring agent, and more. A little bit goes a long way towards adding incredible depth, brightness, and appeal.

Achiote Paste Recipe Ideas

Here are some classic recipes that showcase delicious ways to cook with achiote paste:

Tacos al Pastor

The iconic street taco filling gets its trademark red-orange hue and balanced flavor notes of sweet and savory from a marinade base of achiote paste.

Cochinita Pibil

Yucatan-style pit-roasted pork is rubbed with a garlicky-citrusy blend of achiote paste and spices for mouthwatering pulled meat.

Arroz Rojo

Stir a spoonful of paste into rice during cooking for vibrant "red rice" flecked with its earthy flavor.

Achiote Shrimp

Marinating plump shrimp in an achiote mixture makes them irresistibly tasty when grilled.

Achiote Chicken Wings

Coating baked wings with an achiote-based spice blend results in crispy, full-flavored appetizers.

Achiote Oil

Infusing oil with annatto seeds and paste makes a beautiful cooking fat for frying eggs, meats, or veggies.

There are so many ways to utilize achiote's savory-sweet taste and gorgeous hue. It can transform simple recipes into vibrant and flavorful Mexican fare.


Is achiote paste spicy?

No, achiote paste is not inherently spicy. The level of heat depends on whether spices like chili powder or peppers are added to the recipe. On its own, annatto seeds contribute an earthy, mild flavor.

What does achiote paste taste like?

Achiote paste tastes slightly sweet, nutty, tangy, and peppery. Annatto seeds have a subtle but distinct earthy flavor, while ingredients like garlic, citrus juice, vinegar, and oregano bolster the taste.

How long does achiote paste last?

Properly stored homemade or store-bought achiote paste will typically last 4-6 months in the refrigerator. Keep it in an airtight container to maximize freshness. If mold grows or the color fades to brown, it is expired.

What can I substitute for achiote paste?

There is no perfect stand-in, but acceptable substitutions combine paprika or turmeric for color and cumin, oregano, garlic powder for flavor. A blend of these with citrus juice mimics some of its qualities.

Is there a difference between achiote and annatto?

Achiote and annatto refer to the same ingredient: the small, red seeds from the tropical Bixa orellana tree. Annatto is its Spanish name while achiote comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.


With its tangy citrus notes, warming spices, and vibrant red-orange hue, achiote paste brings complex flavors and visual appeal to various Mexican dishes.

It serves many culinary purposes as a marinade, seasoning, coloring agent, and flavor base.

Incorporating it into meats, stews, rice, beans, salsas, and more results in incredible depth of taste, brighter colors, and even some health bonuses.

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