Achiote seeds (from the annatto plant) originated in Central and South American regions. Spanish traders and settlers brought the plant to Asia. Natural chemicals (with flavors) in the seeds’ coating can be extracted by soaking the seeds in oil or water. The process infuses the liquid with the natural chemicals. Cooks use the flavored water or oil (which turns red) and can discard the seeds. The seeds are inedible unless ground into a powder. The achiote/ annatto flavor is peppery and earthy. We’ve found whole achiote/ annatto seeds and the powder in the international foods aisle of most supermarkets. Brands include Rio Grande and El Chilar. Goya’s Sazon seasoning contains the achote powder mixed with cilantro, and other spices. Add achiote powder to soups, any stir-fry, and dry rubs for grilling meats.
We use achiote to make red rice in Guam. Start the night before by soaking achiote/ annatto seeds in water overnight. Strain the seeds away from the infused water, which turns red. Discard the seeds. When ready to prepare red rice, first sauté chopped onions, chopped garlic, and salt in oil. Next add red achiote-infused water and rice. Let the rice (in red water) cook as usual. The achiote powder can also make red rice.