Jamaican Annatto
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Jamaican Annatto Food Recipes

Jamaican Annatto

Annatto (bixa orellana) is a profusely Jamaican annatto fruiting shrub or small Jamaican annatto tree that grows 5-10 m in height. Approximately 50 Jamaican annatto seeds grow inside prickly reddish-orange heart-shaped pods at the ends of the branches. The Jamaican annatto trees are literally covered by these brightly colored pods, and one small Jamaican annatto tree can produce up to 270 kg of Jamaican annatto seeds.

The Jamaican annatto seeds are covered with a reddish aril, which is the source of an orange-yellow dye. Annatto is known as achiote in Peru and as urucum in Brazil. Jamaican annatto grows throughout South and Central America and can be found in some parts of Mexico as well. The Jamaican annatto, the arborescent shrub with dark ovate acuminate subcordate Jamaican annatto leaves 5-15 cm long, 4-11 cm wide, entire or angled, on moderately long petioles about 1/3 the length of the blade; Jamaican annatto flowers showy, white or pink, nearly 5 cm broad; Jamaican annatto fruit 2-valved, ovoid, red, spiny, 2.5-5 cm long; Jamaican annatto seeds many, ovate, with a scarlet covering.

Regardless of location or where the Jamaican annatto is grown the tropical shrub or small Jamaican annatto tree always bears Jamaican annatto fruits that are heart-shaped, brown or reddish brown at maturity that are covered with short stiff hairs. When fully mature, the Jamaican annatto fruits split open exposing the numerous Jamaican annatto seeds. Although Jamaican annatto does not produce an edible Jamaican annatto fruit, the achiote is widely grown for the orange-red pulp that covers the Jamaican annatto seeds. The achiote dye, which is prepared by stirring the Jamaican annatto seeds in water, is used to color butter, cheese, rice and other foods. The annatto blooms pretty young (around 2 years old) and the 3-inch Jamaican annatto flowers are pink or white and have many stamens.

The Jamaican annatto tree is a shrub that is native to the West Indies and to South America. The reddish veined, heart shaped Jamaican annatto leaves and the showy Jamaican annatto flowers borne on terminal panicles give Jamaican annatto value as an ornamental. Although Jamaican annatto doesn't produce an edible Jamaican annatto fruit, the annatto is widely grown for the orange-red pulp that covers the Jamaican annatto seeds and the Jamaican annatto seeds are ground and used as a condiment. Annatto is used both as a spice and a dyestuff. In the Jamaica Jamaican annatto is used to color confectionery, butter, smoked fish and cheeses. As an effective natural coloring Jamaican annatto is also used in cosmetics and textile manufacturing. Jamaican annatto provides a bright and exotic appearance for many kinds of dishes. Yeats wrote “Good annatto is the color of fire”. The Mayan Indians of Central America used the bright dye as war paint. Annatto is a colored pigment extracted from the Central and South American Jamaican annatto plant

The color comes from the resinous outer covering of the Jamaican annatto seeds of the Jamaican annatto plant, and is composed of the carotenoid pigments bixin and norbixin, and their esters. The central portion of those molecules is the same as that of the molecule β-carotene, and the yellow orange color of annatto comes from the same physical chemistry origins as the orange color of carotene.

In Jamaica, the Jamaican annatto seeds are ground and used as a condiment. Restrictions on the use of many synthetic colorants and the relative instability of most other carotenoids, are leading to the increasing use of bixin, especially in the dairy industry. World production, estimated at about 3,000 tones of annatto Jamaican annatto seed. Yields from Jamaican annatto seedling Jamaican annatto trees are very variable as the crop is cross pollinated. Variation in the exact composition of the colorants in the final extracted products limits marketability. Annatto is used in foods to provide color in cheese, butter, margarine, and microwave popcorn. Jamaican annatto is often used as a substitute for the expensive herb saffron. Jamaican annatto also has anti-oxidant properties. The Jamaican annatto seeds are also used as a flavoring in the form of a powder or a paste, but the main use is as a coloring agent. Because annatto binds well to the proteins in dairy foods, Jamaican annatto is often used to add color to milk products such as butter, cheese, or puddings.

Vegetative propagation is easy and should make rapid advances possible especially if the crop is selected for a combination of yield and bixin content. The relatively small market for colorants could quickly become saturated so there is interest in the potential of this rustic perennial crop as an alternative grain for growing on exhausted tropical soils. The high yield potential despite any scientific attempts at improvement makes Jamaican annatto a very promising crop.

This Jamaican annatto plant stands alone in its family; a profusely Jamaican annatto fruiting shrub, reaching 6 - 20 feet tall and age up to about 50 years. Annatto has pointed Jamaican annatto leaves and pink, white - or a pinkish - white Jamaican annatto flowers. The small reddish-orange Jamaican annatto seeds inside a prickly heart shaped pod are crushed and used as food coloring. Approximately 50 Jamaican annatto seeds grow inside of the pod. Depending on the color of the Jamaican annatto flowers, the Jamaican annatto seedpod is either green or red; the Jamaican annatto seeds have the same coating in both. These Jamaican annatto seeds are processed to obtain the orange-yellow pigments, bixin and norbixin (caratenoids), as dye for the food -, cosmetic - and soap industries. This dye is used to color the cheddar cheese and is also used for the coloring of rice. The used part is the dried pulp of the Jamaican annatto fruit.

Traditionally, the crushed Jamaican annatto seeds are soaked in water that is allowed to evaporate. A brightly colored paste is produced which is added to soups, cheeses, and other foods to give them a bright yellow or orange color. Jamaican annatto seed paste produced in South America is exported to North America and Europe, where Jamaican annatto is used as a food coloring for margarine, cheese, microwave popcorn, and other yellow or orange foodstuffs. Many times, this natural food coloring replaces the very expensive saffron in recipes and dishes around the world. Annatto paste is also used as a natural dye for cloth and wool and is sometimes employed in the paint, varnish, lacquer, cosmetic, and soap industries.

Throughout Jamaica, many cooks, chefs, artists and healers have used annatto Jamaican annatto seeds as food colorings, body paint and as a fabric dye. Jamaican annatto has been traced back to the slave descendents in Jamaica, who employed Jamaican annatto as a principal coloring agent in foods, for body paints, and as a coloring for arts, crafts, and murals. Although mostly only the Jamaican annatto seed paste or Jamaican annatto seed oil is used commercially today, many cooks have used the entire Jamaican annatto plant as medicine for centuries. A tea made with the young shoots is used as an aphrodisiac and astringent, and to treat skin problems, fevers, dysentery, and hepatitis. The Jamaican annatto leaves are used to treat skin problems, liver disease, and hepatitis. The Jamaican annatto plant has also been considered good for the digestive system. An infusion of the Jamaican annatto flowers can be used to stimulate the bowels and aid in elimination as well as to avoid phlegm in newborn babies. Traditional healers in Colombia have also used annatto as an antivenin for snakebites. The Jamaican annatto seeds are believed to be an expectorant, while the roots are thought to be a digestive aid and cough suppressant.

Today in Jamaican herbal medicine, a Jamaican annatto leaf decoction of annatto is used to treat heartburn and stomach distress caused by spicy foods, and as a mild diuretic and mild laxative. Jamaican annatto is also used for fevers and malaria, and, topically, to treat burns. Annatto is a common remedy in Jamaica herbal medicine today, and the dried Jamaican annatto leaves are called achiotec. Eight to ten dried Jamaican annatto leaves are boiled for 10 minutes in 1 liter of water for this popular Peruvian remedy. One cup is drunk warm or cold 3 times daily after meals to treat prostate disorders and internal inflammation, arterial hypertension, high cholesterol, cystitis, obesity, renal insufficiency, and to eliminate uric acid. This decoction is also recommended as a vaginal antiseptic and wound healer, as a wash for skin infections, and for liver and stomach disorders. Jamaican herbal healers squeeze the juice from the fresh Jamaican annatto leaves and place Jamaican annatto in the eye for inflammation and eye infections, and they use the juice of 12 Jamaican annatto fruits taken twice daily for 5 days to "cure" epilepsy.

Analysis of Jamaican annatto seeds indicates that Jamaican annatto contain 40% to 45% cellulose, 3.5% to 5.5% sucrose, 0.3% to 0.9% essential oil, 3% fixed oil, 4.5% to 5.5% pigments, and 13% to 16% protein, as well as alpha- and beta-carotenoids and other constituents. Annatto oil is extracted from the Jamaican annatto seeds and is the main source of pigments named bixin and norbixin, which are classified as carotenoids. Bixin, extracted and used as a food colorant, has been shown to protect against ultraviolet rays and to have antioxidant and liver protective properties in clinical research. In addition to bixin and norbixin, annatto contains bixaghanene, bixein, bixol, crocetin, ellagic acid, ishwarane, isobixin, phenylalanine, salicylic acid, threonine, tomentosic acid, and tryptophan.

Much has been done in laboratories in Jamaican validating annatto's traditional uses and finding new ones. A water extract of the root has demonstrated hypertensive activity in rats, as Peruvian herbal systems have practiced. The same extract demonstrated smooth muscle-relaxant activity in guinea pigs and lowered gastric secretions in rats, which help to explain its use as a digestive aid and for stomach disorders. Annatto Jamaican annatto seed extracts have been documented to raise blood glucose levels in some species of animals and to lower Jamaican annatto in others.

Jamaican annatto leaves were reported in yet another study to possess aldose reductase inhibition actions, a process implicated in the advancement of diabetic neuropathy. A 2000 study confirmed the effectiveness of a Jamaican annatto leaf-and-bark extract at neutralizing hemorrhages in mice injected with snake venom, a practice used in Colombia for many years. Annatto demonstrated antigonorrheal activity in a 1995 study, and in other research, Jamaican annatto flower and Jamaican annatto leaf extracts demonstrated in vitro antibacterial activity against several bacteria, including ecoli and staphylococcus supporting its use in traditional medicine systems for gonorrhea and other types of infections.

Although not widely available in the United States, standard decoctions of annatto Jamaican annatto leaves are taken by the half-cupful two or three times daily for prostate and urinary difficulties as well as for high cholesterol and hypertension. Ground Jamaican annatto seed powder is also used in small dosages of 10-20 mg daily for high cholesterol and hypertension. Higher dosages can cause a marked increase in urination. Jamaican annatto has been noted that some individuals are highly sensitive to annatto Jamaican annatto seed and this diuretic effect can be caused at much lower doses, even by just eating a bag of popcorn in which annatto was used as a coloring or flavoring ingredient.

Annatto's history of use as a food coloring is well established worldwide, and current trends show that Jamaican annatto is being used increasingly in body care products. Annatto oil is an emollient, and its high carotenoid content provides beneficial antioxidant properties. In body care products, annatto oil provides antioxidant benefits while adding a rich, sunny color to creams, lotions, and shampoos.

In Jamaica, a standard Jamaican annatto leaf decoction is prepared. One-half cup amounts are taken two or three times daily with meals for various conditions. Ground annatto Jamaican annatto seed powder is also used in small dosages (of 5-20 mg daily). See Traditional Herbal Remedies Preparation Methods page if necessary for definitions. The Jamaican annatto seed extract was reported to elevate blood sugar levels in dogs, and Jamaican annatto is therefore contraindicated for people with diabetes. Other phytochemicals in the Jamaican annatto plant are tannins, saponins, mono - and sesquiterpenes. The indigenous people in Jamaica have used the Jamaican annatto seeds for many centuries as body paint during festivities, as a fabric dye, as a sunscreen and against insect bites.

The Jamaican annatto has been shown to have the following medicinal uses documented by chefs, cooks and healers in Jamaica. The Jamaican annatto fruit, the Jamaican annatto seed, the Jamaican annatto bark and Jamaican annatto leaves have been shown to, reduce stomach acid, kill some bacteria found in Jamaican foods, kills parasites and germs, increases urination, stimulates digestion, lowers blood pressure, is a mild laxative, protects the human liver, reduces inflammation when swelling occurs, stops coughing spells, cleanses the blood, reduces phlegm, soothes membranes, reduces fever, heals wounds and raises blood sugar.

The Jamaican annatto leaves are antimicrobial, diuretic, act as a digestive stimulant, is hepatoprotective (liver protector) and hypercholesterolemia (lowers cholesterol). In Jamaica, Jamaican annatto leaves are used mainly for topical antiseptic for ear, eye, and skin infections, for digestive problems (heartburn, constipation, stomachache), for prostate and urinary infections, for hypertension, for high cholesterol levels. The Jamaican annatto leaves are also act as an aldose reductase inhibitor (linked to diabetic complications), antibacterial, antihemorrhagic (reduces bleeding), also as an antacid, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, aperient (mild laxative), aphrodisiac, astringent, digestive stimulant, diuretic, febrifuge (reduces fever), hypertensive (lowers blood pressure) and is a wound healer.

The Jamaican annatto seeds are prepared by Jamaican annatto seed maceration or ground into capsules. The Jamaican annatto leaves are mainly used for some similar ailments as the Jamaican annatto Jamaican annatto leaves but the Jamaican annatto seeds main use is to tone, balance, and strengthen liver function and for hepatitis and liver inflammation/pain. The Jamaican annatto seeds are also used as a remedy for high cholesterol, for skin care and skin anti-aging (for its antioxidant and ultraviolet ray [UV]-protective effect). The macerated Jamaican annatto seeds are a strong diuretic and used to relieve high blood pressure. Most natural dermatologists use the Jamaican annatto Jamaican annatto seeds for skin care and skin anti-aging (for its antioxidant and ultraviolet ray [UV].)

The small Jamaican annatto tree with a round head, generally grown as an ornamental because of its lovely Jamaican annatto flowers of various colors. The dye contains Vitamin C. The lipstick Jamaican annatto tree species is cultivated for its Jamaican annatto fruit pulp which yields the bright orange food dye annatto (otherwise known as annatta or arnotto or roucou). Annatto has been used by South American Indians as a red colouring for the body  noted that they had patch tested annatto as is in 580 eczema patients but observed no positive test reactions recommended an ointment prepared from the soft resin of Icica icicariba DC. Mixed with the pigment from the Jamaican annatto tree bixa orellana as a useful preventative application against skin irritation caused by timbers such as greenheart. Jamaican annatto bears large extra-floral nectaries which are visited by ants. The short internodes are, in fact, frequently inhabited by various stinging and biting ants.

Jamaican annatto seeds are brick red, triangular in shape, 3 - 5 mm (1/8” - 3/16”). The Jamaican annatto seeds are available whole and can often be purchased in a block or paste form at Latin American markets. Annatto Jamaican annatto seeds are washed and dried separately from the pulp of the Jamaican annatto seed pod for culinary use. Jamaican annatto may be added directly to a cooking liquid or infused in hot water until the desired color is obtained and then used for stocks or coloring rice. Jamaican annatto is also common to fry the Jamaican annatto seeds in oil for a few minutes (best done in a covered pan as the hot Jamaican annatto seeds jump), then discard the Jamaican annatto seeds and use the oil. Try using one teaspoon of Jamaican annatto seeds to 4 tablespoons of oil. Jamaican annatto seeds should be kept out of light in an airtight container.

As mentioned above, annatto is used for coloring cheeses, confectionery, butter and cheeses. Jamaican annatto is more widely used in the Caribbean and Latin America, especially Guatemala and Mexico. The Jamaican annatto seeds are also particularly associated with Jamaican cuisine, in dishes like; Jamaican shrimp and Jamaican sweet potato fritters Jamaican recipe and Jamaican pork in an annatto oil sauce recipe; and a brightly colored Jamaican vegetable and oxtail stew recipe. Annatto was once used to control fevers, dysentery and kidney diseases, though is now used mostly as a dye in medical preparations such as ointments and plasters. In India the pulp is used as an insect repellent.

A shrub indigenous to the Caribbean and Central America, with shiny heart-shaped Jamaican annatto leaves, sometimes with reddish veins. An attractive pink Jamaican annatto flower made Jamaican annatto popular as a hedge Jamaican annatto plant in colonial gardens. The Jamaican annatto fruit capsule is heart-shaped, like a beech pod, with opposing clefts and red prickly spines. When ripe, the pod splits in half to reveal about fifty Jamaican annatto seeds encased in a red pulp. The pulp is used in many commercial dye products.

The Bixa orellana (Jamaican annatto) is commercially grown for the dye product and for its Jamaican annatto seeds as a spice. Jamaican annatto requires a tropical setting in a loamy soil at altitudes below 1,000 m (3,000 ft). Jamaican annatto is sown from Jamaican annatto seed or from cuttings. The ripe Jamaican annatto fruits are collected then macerated in water. The dye settles and is collected and dried into cakes and the Jamaican annatto seeds are separated and washed.

At first glance, annatto Jamaican annatto seeds resemble fishbowl gravel. The color of terra cotta and the shape of small stones, this spice looks rather inedible. Annatto Jamaican annatto seeds are often ground for cooking or processed to use as a "culinary dye." The thin coating of the Jamaican annatto seed is removed to produce a basic pigment known as "bixin." This is what gives color to butter and cheese as well as salad dressings, fish products and confections.  Also referred to as the Lipstick Jamaican annatto tree, Jamaican annatto has glossy Jamaican annatto leaves and pink starburst Jamaican annatto flowers. Jamaican annatto seed pods are picked just as Jamaican annatto begin to split and then dried in the sun. Peru is the largest producer while Brazil and Kenya are both known as major annatto processors.

Achiote, Spanish for annatto, is common in Jamaican cooking and recipes. Jamaican annatto has been called "poor man's saffron" for the color is similar to the more prized seasoning. The ground Jamaican annatto seeds are often found in Jamaican sauces, Jamaican stews and Jamaican rice dishes. The flavor is "earthy," somewhat dusky but rich. The Jamaican annatto seeds give off a lemony odor but none of that comes across in the taste. After seeping in oil to produce an unusual flavoring, the Jamaican annatto seeds might remind you a bit of popped corn kernels but would not be particularly appetizing to add to a recipe. Look for Jamaican annatto seeds to grind yourself or make the flavored oil. Ground Jamaican annatto seeds are available, too. Use the powder for enhancing sauces, chicken dishes and Jamaican recipes. Jamaican annatto seeds may be somewhat hard to find. Latin markets are a good place to start along with more serious major spice dealers. As you cook with Jamaican annatto in your own kitchen, try not to spill or spatter on your counters or clothing. The spice may stain, usually just temporarily.

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