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QuestionHi there, I was wondering if you have a recipe for making
yellow/orange food colouring at home. I make pretty much everything at home and don't buy packaged food other than milk/butter/grains.

Thanks in advance,
PK, Vancouver, Canada

AnswerHello PK!
Yes the best thing is either turmeric or annatto. I have used both in my cooking, and they work wonderfully Here's some info about Annato:

Annatto (Bixa orellana, Fam. Bixaceae)

annatoAnnatto is used both as a spice and a dyestuff. It may be better known to
Mexican and Latin markets as achiote or
in the Philippines as atsuwete or achuete.
In the West it used to colour confectionery, butter, smoked fish and cheeses like Cheshire, Leicester, Edam and Muenster.


As an effective natural colouring it is also used in cosmetics and textile manufacturing. It provides a bright and exotic appearance for many kinds of dishes. Yeats wrote
“Good arnotto is the colour of fire” (Natural History, 1870). The Mayan Indians of Central America used the bright dye as war paint.


Spice Description
Annatto seeds are brick red, triangular in shape, 3 - 5 mm (1/8” - 3/16”). The seeds are available whole and can often be purchased in a block or paste form at Latin American markets.

Bouquet: slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg
Flavour: slightly sweet and peppery.
Hotness Scale: 1 -2

Preparation and Storage
Annatto seeds are washed and dried separately from the pulp of the seed pod for culinary use. They may be added directly to a cooking liquid or infused in hot water until the desired colour is obtained and then used for stocks or colouring rice. It is also common to fry the seeds in oil for a few minutes (best done in a covered pan as the hot seeds jump), then discard the seeds and use the oil. Try using one teaspoon of seeds to 4 tablespoons of oil. Annatto seeds should be kept out of light in an airtight container.

Culinary Uses
As mentioned above, annatto is used for colouring cheeses, confectionery, butter and cheeses. It is more widely used in the Caribbean and Latin America, especially Guatemala and Mexico. The seeds are also particularly associated with Filipino cuisine, in non-vegetarian dishes like ukoy, pipian, and kari-kari, a brightly coloured stew. I have a nice recipe below.

Attributed Medicinal Properties
Annatto was once used to control fevers, dysentry 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.

Plant Description and Cultivation
Bixa orellana is a shrub indigenous to the Caribbean and Central America, with shiny heart-shaped leaves, sometimes with reddish veins. An attractive pink flower made it popular as a hedge plant in colonial gardens. The 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 seeds encased in a red pulp. The pulp is used in many commercial dye products.

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

Other Names
Achiote, Anatta, Annato, Annotta, Aploppas, Arnotta, Arnotto, Orellana, Orlean, Orleana

French: rocou, roucou
German: Annatto
Italian: annatto
Spanish: achiote, achote
Argentine: urucu
Caribbean: bija, bijol, foucou
Indian: latkhan, sendri
Philipines: achuete, atsuwete

Finally, here’s a recipe for Caribbean Rice.

Arroz Amarillo con AchioteCaribbean Yellow Rice
(Arroz Amarillo con Achiote)

Caribbean cooks often tinge their cooking with achiote, the brick-red seeds of the annato tree, Bixa orellana. They usually make large batches of annato oil by heating the seeds for a few minutes in hot oil until they darken, then discarding the seeds. The oil turns a deep reddish-orange.

In this recipe for yellow rice – which is actually more orange than yellow – a small amount of annato seeds are used to make just enough of the brightly coloured oil for the recipe. Annato oil is used primarily for colour, and has little if any discernible flavour of its own, although I have heard it described as having an “earthy” flavour. Annato does however seem to give an enriching roundness to the flavour of the oil. Purchase annato seeds at specialty shops, Asian or Philippine suppliers. Serves 4 - 6.

2¾ cups vegetable stock
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons annato seeds
½ teaspoon yellow asafetida powder
1½ cups long grain rice

Bring to a boil the stock, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover with a lid.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the annato seeds, and fry briefly, until the seeds darken and the oil turns a deep reddish-orange. Remove the pan from the heat. Extract the seeds from the oil with a slotted spoon and discard the seeds. Return the saucepan to the heat.

Sprinkle the yellow asafetida powder into the coloured oil, saute momentarily, then add the rice, and gently stir-fry it for 2 minutes, or until the rice goes a little opaque.

Pour the simmering liquid into the sauteed rice. Raise the heat, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover tightly with a lid and cook for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is fully absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy.

Remove the rice from the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 5 minutes, to allow the tender rice grains to firm up.

Serve the rice hot.

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