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Annatto ~ Getting Started

Natural Dyeing with Annatto Seeds

There are so many gorgeous dyes out there, but few are as versatile as the gentle, earthy peach and yellow hues of Annatto.


Tiny fragrant, brick-red, chocolate-chip-esque Annatto Seeds (Bixa orellana) grow on the achiote tree in tropical regions spanning the Caribbean, Central America, and down through Brazil.


They've got a tough outer-casing that begs to be soaked-before-use to get the most color when not ground. But if you've got a spare spice grinder, consider grinding them for a nice even powder to dye with. Good luck though if you go the mortar-and-pestle route. They're super tough to break down by-hand.


You've probably heard of Annatto, even if you weren't sure what they were.

They're commonly found on ingredient lists and in the fine print and are used to impart their safe, natural orange-y color to many body care goods, foods and drinks (think: soaps, cheddar cheese, crackers, cereals, butter, etc.). And, they combine well with other spices, when soaked in oil beforehand.


Annatto, as mentioned, are used to color foods in a range of hues in the yellow to orangey-red spectrum.

They have also been used for thousands of years to color indigenous body paint--and the achiote tree itself is called the lipstick tree because of the obvious.

Its color is divine when added to a bit of shea butter. And, it's also well known as a textile dye. But that said, it's fickle with light, so do avoid drying items in direct sunlight to hold onto deeper color results longer.