The Annatto plant

Dear Sally

Thank you for your email.

The annatto plant is native to the Amazon rain forest, where it is called achiote. Annatto provides the natural face-paint that gives the classic image we have in the West of native Amazonian people with deep orangey-red stripes painted on their cheeks. I personally saw achiote paint being used by the Cofane tribe of people in the Equadorian Amazon rain forest. The Cofance people said that they use this face paint less as a cosmetic, and more because of the sun-blocking properties of the plant and it's general beneficial qualities for the skin.

Annatto food colouring comes from the resinous outer husks of the seeds of the annatto plant. It is very similar to beta-carotene, which is the stuff that naturally makes carrots orange. Annatto is a natural anti-oxidant, and is used by Amazonian people to heal dysentry and fevers. Annatto is widely used in traditional cuisine throughout Latin America, the Philippines and the Caribbean, and is particularly good at dyeing foods that are high in protein. It has a slightly peppery taste with a touch of nutmeg, and can be used as a cheap replacement for saffron.

I hope this sets your mind at rest about the safety of this time-honoured and completely non-toxic natural food colouring.

Kind regards


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