Achiote + Annatto (Paste and Oil Recipes)

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Achiote, or annatto, is a natural red food coloring used in Latin cuisine. I’ll explain how to make achiote oil and paste easily at home!

achiote paste broken into piece sin small bowl

If you’re a fan of Mexican dishes like pollo asado and cochinita pibil (Yucatan pork), you’ve already experienced the vibrant color that achiote provides. Or rather, the ground annatto seeds from the achiote tree, and the paste and oil that can be made from them.

Achiote and annatto seeds

This natural red food coloring comes from the seeds of a shrub (the botanical name is Bixa Orellana) that is native to South America. Sold as dried seeds, powder, and paste, the products are typically used for cooking purposes. However, studies show that there are also potential health benefits of annatto seeds, so it’s sometimes used medicinally as well.

The seeds are a vibrant reddish-orange in color, with a peppery aroma and smoky flavor. Surprisingly, the resulting color that achiote adds to food is more of a yellowish-orange.

Instead of buying the products yourself, I’ll show you how to make achiote/annatto paste and achiote oil yourself. It’s less expensive than buying them, and beyond easy to do!

annatto seeds, ground annatto and achiote paste in white bowls

Annatto paste

At the grocery store, the paste is sold in 4-ounce blocks, but that doesn’t last long when you make a lot of Mexican dishes!

Achiote paste (also known as recado rojo) is made by grinding annatto seeds and combining them with vinegar, garlic and peppery spices like oregano, cumin, cinnamon and clove.

Uses for achiote paste

Annatto paste can be added as-is into any dish you’re making to add color and flavor. You can also use it as a rub for chicken or pork, and it’s great as a marinade and a sauce as well.

I use achiote oil when I make empanada dough to give it a vibrant color.

Achiote paste substitute

If you need a substitute, it’s easy to make. To make 2 ounces of paste (approx. 1/4 cup), combine the following ingredients together in a small bowl:

  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
close up of achiote in small bowl

Looking for other ways to use achiote paste?

Make my recipes for Yucatan Chicken Tostadas and Achiote Pan Seared Chicken.

Achiote Oil

If you steep fresh annatto seeds in cooking oil, the oil is infused with a rich, deep red color. The achiote oil, or achiotina can be used for sauteing or stove top cooking to give the dish a rich yellow/red color.

This is what gives the yellow color to chorizo! You can also add it to fresh masa for flavor and color and press your own tortillas as I do for Yucatan-style Mexican tostadas.

Storage and shelf life

  • Achiote seeds and powder

Store the seeds and powder in airtight containers and keep them in a cool, dark, dry location. They should stay fresh this way for up to three years.

  • Annatto paste

Store bought paste lasts a few months in the refrigerator, but there are usually preservatives added to lengthen the shelf life. Homemade achiote paste stays fresh for 2 weeks if wrapped well and kept in the refrigerator.

To extend the shelf life of the paste, wrap it well and freeze it for up to a year.

  • Achiote oil

The oil has a shelf life of 1 week at room temperature, or up to 4 months in the refrigerator. I keep mine in a squirt bottle near my stove top.

annatto seeds steeped in oil in frying pan

This post, originally published on Kevin is Cooking on Aug. 13, 2013, was last updated with new content on Oct. 9, 2021.

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achiote paste broken into piece sin small bowl

Achiote + Annatto Paste and Oil Recipes

Achiote (aka annatto), is a natural red food coloring used in Latin cuisine. I’ll explain how to make achiote oil and paste easily at home!
Servings: 1 cup
Prep: 2 minutes
Cook: 3 minutes
Total: 5 minutes


Achiote Oil

Achiote Paste


Achiote Oil

  • Bring the vegetable oil and annatto seeds to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn heat off and steep, uncovered for 5 minutes.
  • Let stand until it comes to room temperature and strain oil from seeds into a squeeze bottle. Discard used seeds.
  • I keep in a plastic squeeze bottle and use that as needed near my stove top. Good for 1 week.

Achiote Paste

  • Grind the annatto seeds to powder in a spice or coffee grinder.
  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until a paste forms.
  • Stays fresh for 2 weeks if wrapped well and kept in the refrigerator. This makes about 4 ounces or 1/2 cup total.


Calories: 1879kcal | Fat: 218g | Saturated Fat: 178g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 25g

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
achiote oil in skillet


Whether in the kitchen or on the grill, you’ll find me cooking American favorites with a love for BBQ, Mexican and Tex Mex. I’m passionate about making tasty food because life’s too short to be bland!

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  1. Hi, I have Anatto paste and I want to make red oil for cooking rice. How can I dilute the paste only in oil? Like orange oil.

    1. It typically comes in 3.5 ounce. I would start with breaking it into 4 pieces and using 1 piece steeped in 1 cup of oil. Strain it before using. If you want it stronger in color, use more. This is just a guess!

  2. Hi Kevin. I made the homemade achiote paste. I bought annatto seeds and even a spice grinder. For some reason, I thought initially I saw many recipes using it and realized I was wrong. Can you give a ground beef/cuts of beef/roast recipes using it please? I buy organic beef when on sale so this would be great! Thanks!

  3. Hey Kevin
    Quite some time ago I met a young Peruvian lady & she made the most amazing Beef Heart Kabobs !
    She made a marinade using toasted annatto seed oil but I can’t remember what else she used. I’m trying to make the same thing but don’t see any kabob recipes that look as red/orange as hers. I just found the seeds at an authentic mexican store & want to make her kabobs. Can you help me ?

  4. I feel silly asking because I know the answer is in front of me…Is there any achiote in the achiote paste? I don’t see it listed. Thanks so much!

    1. Achiote paste (also known as recado rojo) is made by grinding annatto seeds and combining them with vinegar, garlic and peppery spices like oregano, cumin, cinnamon and clove. So you have the annatto seeds that can be used ground to flavor and color foods and they in turn can be used in making a paste known as achiote paste. You can buy achiote paste and seeds separately, I’m giving you a recipe to make achiote paste in case your local store does not carry it. I’m also sharing how to make oil from using annatto seeds. Sadly in marketing often times the names are interchanged for whatever reason. I hope this helps though Christina!

    2. I see Kevin has not answered your question. It would seem you are correct, his achiote paste contains no achiote! I believe the recipe provided is merely a substitute for achiote paste. I have a bag of annatto seeds and was looking for a recipe make paste…..still looking.

      1. Michael, appreciate you chiming in here for an assist. I am not sure what happened in the recipe card, but when re-working the post and recipe card with updated information something was overlooked in the process. Recipe card has been updated to reflect. Annatto seeds are indeed in Achicote paste!

  5. HI, I love your recipes, however…I do not get this one. For the paste, I make the oil and then mix it with the rest of the ingredients? Will I get a paste with all that oil???

    1. Thanks for following along Godwin! In today’s post I am explaining how to make achiote oil and achiote paste easily at home. Two separate recipes for two separate uses in the kitchen. Hope this makes sense.

  6. Hi Kevin, I had some achiote oil leftover when I made pasteles last year. Stored them in a glass jar in the refrigerator. After a year, would that oil be any good? Looks good but haven’t tasted it.

    1. Hi Adrienne and thanks for stopping by. Vegetable and fruit oils don’t have a shelf life really past a year. When I make my achiote oil it’s usually about a 1/2 cup total. I usually make it to use it right away. I personally would not use it if it’s a year old. I have a link here that might be beneficial to look at if you like. Scroll down the page to see all the different oils. If it smells a bit rancid, like I bet it will, I’d make a new batch, in a small quantity. Thanks again for the question.

      1. For making oil, you don’t need to. It makes it more difficult and wasteful when straining as you’ll need to use cheese cloth to strain ground achiote. Kevin’s method of whole seeds in microwaved oil provides an excellent result

  7. Hey Kevin! I’m here because of your recent Posole post. I need to replenish some of my spices like peppercorns, Dutch cocoa powder and cinnamon from Penzey’s and I’m definitely ordering some annatto seeds! I need to make this oil!! 🙂

    1. The achiote oil is so good for that authentic look and visual color. It does have a taste for sure, but subtle. Also, I always get that Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey’s too! Amazing stuff. 🙂