The unmistakable hand of Mexican cuisine dates back to historic times, with beginnings even in the pre-Hispanic era, when the original communities used the wonders of nature to prepare exquisite delicacies that are still thriving today, like chocolate or avocado derivatives.
Such is the case of achiote paste, or annatto, a very important condiment and dye in Mexican cuisine, especially in the southeast region. Of a natural origin and with an unmistakable vibrant red color, this plant, native to the continent, was considered sacred and although it was not widely used in gastronomy, it was combined with cocoa to create a sparkling ritual drink for ceremonial purposes.
Join us to discover what achiote is, its origins, and how you can implement it in your dishes from now on.
You may know it as annatto, probably. Originally, achiote comes from the seeds of the Bixa Orellana plant. For its preparation, the fruit itself is left to ripen and dry until it acquires a traditional brown color and is then ground to obtain the deep red powder used in cooking. This seasoning can be found in most supermarkets and convenience stores, ready to use.
Its name comes from the Nahuatl achiotl and in pre-Hispanic times, rather than for seasoning, it was used mainly as a pigment. With it, they decorated walls and vessels, as well as their own bodies and faces. Healing and even aphrodisiac properties were also attributed to it, according to some researchers.
Later, when the Spaniards arrived in America, achiote was introduced to Europe and Asia, and its use as a pigment and flavoring agent spread rapidly around the globe. Nowadays, many industries use it mainly to give more vibrant colors to certain foods, such as Cheddar-type cheeses or even some ice creams.
Within the national territory, achiote is cultivated and implemented mostly in Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Chiapas, and Quintana Roo, where it abounds in the markets and is used to make sauces to accompany certain garnishes, in some kinds of butter, and also in the dough for empanadas or tamales.
In Tabasco, for example, for its conservation, achiote paste is usually mixed with water, boiled, and left to stand for hours, until it results in a semi-thick paste that is wrapped in a corn husk until it solidifies. Later on, this block can be used to prepare broths or sauces.
In Yucatan, where its most famous presentation is from, achiote paste is essential for the preparation of cochinita pibil and some sausages, marinades, and many more dishes where its unmistakable color can be appreciated.
Without a doubt, if you are visiting the southeast of the country, you should stay somewhere where you can taste the unique flavor of achiote and its many presentations.