Annatto Pod

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

The pod in this picture is an unripe one — annatto (Bixa orellana) seeds and their pods are a brownish red colour when fully ripe. We caught a glimpse of a few trees with ripe pods while riding on buses in Barbados but I was never able to get up close to pods that were fully mature. It’s a shame really, because a tree full of ripe fruit is a beautiful sight.

I first heard about annatto many years ago in reference to Cuban cooking. In fact, I bought a package of the seeds about 10 years ago and never had occasion to use it. I believe the package is still sitting unopened in my kitchen spice cupboard!

That’s because while the seeds do have a slightly peppery taste and flavour, their use is really more about adding colour to food. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t ever use it because I have since learned that annatto is a common allergen… and I have a lot of allergies.

Annatto makes an excellent cloth or wool dye. I found a good tutorial on the process here.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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4 thoughts on “Annatto Pod

  1. On the subject of dye plants, I just noticed on a Malaysian garden site that Clitoria ( do you remember seeing it in St.Lucia?) is used to colour rice. Not sure why.

  2. I looked it up… yes I remember now. No idea why anyone would want to dye their rice such a bright blue colour… it doesn’t strike me as a very edible colour. But interesting.

    Also the name and look of the flower but I think that goes without saying.

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