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What is achiote?

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Achiote, or Bixa orellana, is an evergreen shrub and small tree native to Central and South America that produces seeds used in cooking, especially in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. The pulp surrounding the seed is often an ingredient in cakes or processed into dyes.

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The seeds impart a yellow to deep orange-red color and an earthy taste when steeped in oil and used as seasoning. They also produce extracts that manufacturers use as food coloring in margarine, cheese and sausage. Aciote seeds combined with garlic, allspice and habanero peppers form a paste that is a popular spread or condiment in many cuisines. Aciote seeds are interchangeable with annatto seeds.

Early South and Central American cultures used achiote as body paint, lipstick and hair dye. The Aztec people also used achiote as red ink for writing and painting. Other uses for the plant include rope mats made from stem fibers and adhesive gums made from plant extracts.

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