Bixa orellana is a large, perennial shrub known for its red-orange seeds, commonly referred to as annatto or achiote. Native to Central and South America, annatto seeds were traditionally ground and blended with various spices then used to season culinary dishes. Annatto seed imparts an orange pigment and is commonly used in cosmetics and as a natural food dye.
Annatto is a South and Central American herb producing small, dark, red seeds with a faint, flowery odor. The tree was introduced to the Philippines during its Spanish period. In 1540, the Spanish mercenary Gonzalo Pizarro left the plunder of the Incan Empire on rumors that groves of cinnamon trees were to be found in the Amazon basin. Almost his entire force perished in the jungle. He escaped by sailing down the Amazon, his primary plunder the annatto berries he found instead of cinnamon.
The intense red color of the seed is due to bixin in the seed coat. Annatto also contains very high concentrations of carotenoids, chemicals in the same class as alpha- and beta-carotene. Annatto has been used for centuries to keep food from spoiling. Annatto seed is used in cooking, cosmetics, and as a natural food dye. Common names include achiote and lipstick tree.
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