With its lush foliage, orchid-like flowers and wildly wooly fruit, the achiote (ah-chee-OH-tay) tree gives us a seasoning typically used in Hispanic cuisines. The brick-red seeds, known as annatto (un-NAH-toh), were initially used in ceremonial body paints, and experts think they made a quick trip from pigment to palate. For the cook, three forms are important:
Seasoning: A combination of herbs and ground annatto seeds, achiote seasoning is mixed with water, vinegar or oil to make a marinade for chicken or is sprinkled dry on food.
Annatto seeds: Seeds are heated in oil then allowed to steep. The infused oil is used for sautéing meats and vegetables and flavoring rice dishes.
Achiote paste: Also sold as adobo de achiote and recado rojo, achiote paste is made of ground annatto seeds, garlic and other spices.
—By Jo Marshall, creator and author of the Cookcabulary Series.