Achiote Beans Recado

by on August 12, 2008
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annatto seedsWhen it comes to seasonings, I’m a compulsive buyer. When I see an herb or spice that I’ve heard of but never used, I can’t pass up the opportunity to buy it—even if I have no idea what to do with it. I’m particularly bad about this when I’m ordering from Penzey’s or The Spice House; I’ll think, “Why not add a little jar of ajwain seed or Szechuan peppercorns to my cart? I’m paying for shipping anyway.”

That’s exactly how I came to own a jar of annatto seeds, which I promptly put in my spice cabinet and forgot about. Then a few days ago I saw the recipe for Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu on 101 Cookbooks. Heidi used annatto (also known as achiote) in a marinade for a delicious-looking grilled tofu. I remembered my unused annatto seeds and started doing some research to find out what exactly they are and how they’re traditionally used.

Annatto seeds come from the annatto (no surprise) or lipstick plant (bixa orellana) and are used as both a seasoning and food coloring. The brick red seeds are prized for the orange-yellow color they lend to foods as well as for their flavor, which is subtle and deep rather than pungent or spicy. In the Caribbean, the seeds are often fried in oil and strained out, and the oil used to fry vegetables or meat. In Mexico, annatto seeds are often ground along with pepper, cumin, and other spices and combined with the juice of Seville or sour oranges to form a paste, recado, used to marinate meat. The most popular dish they’re used in (at least if you believe Google results indicate popularity) is pork pibil, in which pork is marinated in recado and then wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a stone pit, grill, or oven.

The recado seasoning sounded like something I’d like to try, but without the pig, of course. So I took the basics—annatto, black pepper, cumin, allspice, orange juice—and used them to season a pot of slow-cooked beans, sort of a cross between chili beans and barbecued beans. I used two cans of pinto beans and one can of mixed (pinto, kidney, and black) beans and allowed them to simmer on the lowest setting on my stove for an hour and a half. (I would have used the slow cooker but was afraid that mine is too large for this.) The results were delicious—slightly sweet, slightly tart, but with a rich flavor underneath that must have come from the annatto seeds because it didn’t taste like anything I’ve had before. It was subtle but worth the trouble of making the seasoning mix.

Achiote Beans

How I served these beans:

Tortillas with Achiote Beans and Mango

I used the beans as a part of my taco salad for lunch and as a filling for soft tacos and tostadas for dinner. A year ago you couldn’t have paid me to put fruit in a taco, but I’ve been doing it a lot lately, and mango (pictured above) was amazing in combination with these beans. I had planned to make it into a salsa but found that just dicing it and throwing it on the tostada with some tomatoes, red onion, and parsley was simpler and just as tasty.

Thanks to Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages, The Epicenter, and Practically Edible for info about annatto.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Juanita June 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm

These beans were wonderful! I didn’t add the oj because we didn’t have any. I loved this recipe. Thanks so very much for all your wonderful recipes and hard work.


2 SusanV June 13, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Thanks, Juanita! I’m so glad you liked the beans.


3 kensington cooker April 18, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I saw annatto seeds where Mexican foods are sold locally and purchased some, having vaguely recalled that you had a recipe for them. I used all of your seasonings but with dried black beans in the crockpot( more liquid needed of course). What an interesting, appealing flavor–a little sweet and sour with an indefinable something, just as you described it. Always looking for novel ways to flavor those beans–this one’s a keeper. Thanks Susan.


4 caterina June 23, 2011 at 12:31 am

How much annato powder should I substitute for the seeds? I was able to find only the ground spice… thank you. The recipe looks deliciuos!


5 SusanV June 23, 2011 at 7:29 am

I haven’t used the ground annato, but I think I would use half as much–1 tablespoon. I hope you enjoy it!


6 Tracy August 15, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I just ordered the annatto seeds from Penzeys 🙂 Can’t wait to try these! Thanks Susan!!


7 Pat B August 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Once prepared will these beans freeze well? I would like to freeze them in smaller portions since I rarely cook for more than 2 people.


8 Susan Voisin August 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Sure! Cooked beans usually freeze just fine. Hope you enjoy.


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