or annatto (Bixa orellana
(in the original Nahuatl), acanguarica
(in the Purépecha language); auau
(in Totonaca); kiui, dúxub
(in Maya), and bosh
(in the Tzotzil language) are just some of names axiote has received in Mexico’s varied languages.
most reliable data regarding its origin place axiote in the southwestern Amazon region, domesticated from a wild tree (Bixa excels
) by local inhabitants, probably for ritual purposes and because of the plant’s effectiveness as an insect repellent.
cultivation, use and consumption spread throughout the Americas starting in ancient times and by the time of Europeans’ arrival to the New World, it was a shared staple known throughout the hemisphere and among the peoples of the Caribbean. Colonial-era chroniclers mention consumption of annatto-dyed chocolate.
plant grows in Mexico’s warm areas and is produced on the Yucatán peninsula (the states of Campeche and Yucatán are its largest producers). But axiote can be adapted to different types of climate and soil. It is a shrub with long leaves and large, white-to-pinkish flowers (male and female); its fruit takes the form of an oval to globular capsule, with or without silky spines, and contains numerous seeds ranging from orange to red in color, that contain bixin (gelatinous red dye). The fruit’s optimal production season runs from August to December.
seeds contain lipids, acids (linoleic acid), amino acids, glutamate, aspartate, leucine, ash, phosphorus, calcium, iron and zinc. Traditional medicine attributes healing properties to axiote that fight dysentery, diarrhea and tonsillitis; it is also used as a diuretic, a putative aphrodisiac and a laxative, as well as a clothing dye, and not least of all, there are its many culinary uses.
in various parts of the world as achiote or annat, we owe its worldwide spread to Spaniards who reached the Americas in the sixteenth century. Today is it is used in the cuisines of Asia, Europe and Africa.
—especially inhabitants of its Central Gulf areas, Yucatán and the southern Highlands— use axiote as a condiment in some of those regions’ most representative dishes, where axiote known as recaudo
or recado rojo
is used to marinate poultry, fish and pork; it also seasons and dyes corn and cocoa-based broths, stews and beverages. Its exemption from certification as a dye has led to its notable commercial importance in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industries.
, use and consumption increased starting in the nineteenth century, when bixin began to be used to improve the presentation of dairy products (cheese, butter and margarine), meat products of all kinds; as well as chocolate, popcorn, candy, ice cream, and snack seasonings; and became an ingredient in soaps, cosmetics (lipsticks and bronzers) and in pharmaceutical products.