Common names: Achiote, Annato, Aploppas
Annatto ( English), Achiotl / Ku'u up (Maya), Achiote (Spanish), Bixa orellana, Bixa Family, Native to Mexico, now grown in many countries for its great taste and natural coloring qualities. Achiote is an important ingredient in "Pibil Pastes" and Mayan cooking. Annatto shrubs or bushes bear pink flowers and bright red-brown spiny fruits which contain the valuable burned red seeds. Mayan people value Annatto for its healing properties, great taste, fabulous natural dye, and wonderful aroma. Seeds are dried and used as powder
Bixa orellana is a tall shrub to small evergreen tree 20–33 ft (6–10 m) high. It bears clusters of 2 in (5 cm) bright white to pink flowers, resembling single wild roses, appearing at the tips of the branches. The fruits are in clusters: spiky looking red-brown seed pods covered in soft spines. Each pod contains many seeds covered with a thin waxy blood-red aril. When fully mature, the pod dries, hardens, and splits open, exposing the seeds.
The color of the seed coating is due mainly to the carotenoid pigments bixin and norbixin.
The seeds are heated in oil or lard to extract its dye and flavor for use in dishes and processed foods such as cheese, butter, soup, gravy, sauces, cured meats, and other items. The seeds impart a subtle flavor and aroma and a yellow to reddish-orange color to food. The seeds are used to color and flavor rice instead of the much more expensive saffron. In Brazil, a powder known as colorau or colorífico is made from the ground seeds combined with filler seeds like maize. This powder is similar to and sometimes replaces paprika.
The Latin name of this plant 'Bixa orellana' does not give much of a clue regarding its properties. The genus name is probably derived from the Portuguese 'biche' meaning beak which alludes to the beak shaped seedpods, while the species name is given in memory of Francisco de Orellano, a Spanish conquistador of the 16th century, who accidentally discovered the Amazon
Although the fruit of the Annatto tree are inedible it is often cultivated for its flowers and more especially for its seedpods. The pulp of the Annatto fruit yields a bright red dye, which has long been used both as a body paint and dye stuff for textiles or food. The ancient Maya and Aztecs regarded it as a symbolic substitute for blood and thus ascribed to it sacred connotations. It was also used to make ink and virtually all the ancient Maya scriptures were penned in annatto juice. The seeds also have a reputation as a female aphrodisiac and are believed to make bulls used for bullfighting more aggressive.
Indigenous people still use the pulp for 'cosmetic purposes', as hair dye or lip stick, hence the English common name 'Lipstick tree'. The pulp is also said to repel insects and to protect against sunburn due to the UV-filtering properties of the carotenoid pigment known as Bixin.
The whole tree has a long history as a valued medicinal plant that has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions from fevers to cancer.
The shoots and young leaves are used for feverish infections including gonorrhoea, dysentery and hepatitis. They are believed to protect the liver and reduce cholesterol. The leaves and seeds are also used to soothe an irritated stomach that is suffering from excessively spicy food. An infusion of the flowers are said to be a useful expectorant for new born babies.
In some parts of the Amazon Annatto is used as a treatment for snakebites. Internally it is said to fight parasites and allies the pains derived from intestinal parasites. Externally the extract of the seeds wards off insects and protects the skin against the ultraviolet rays of the sun. It is also used as a general skin tonic and to heal skin conditions.
The leaves have a marked effect on the urinary system and increase the volume of urine in cases of renal insufficiency or cystitis.
They are also said to reduce benign prostate hyperplasia and generally reputed to have anti-tumor activity, which are thought to be due to the high anti-oxidant activity of the carotenoid compounds Bixin and Norbixin, which are also the source of the red pigment Annatto is known for. These carotenoides have also been found to lower blood sugar levels and have been used for the treatment of diabetes in traditional medicine systems.
ANTI-FUNGAL ACTIVITIES OF ACHIOTEAnother health benefit exerted by achiote added to those mention in carotenoids and due to a on of its bioactive sesquiterpenes is the moderate anti-fungal activity against:
- Candida albicans,
- low activity against T. mentagrophytes
- Escherichia coli,
- Staphylococcus aureus, and
- P. aeruginosa.
ANTI-MICROBIAL PROPERTIES OF ACHIOTEIn developing countries and particularly in Colombia, people with low income and less access to modern medicine resources such as farmers, those living in small isolate villages and native communities, use folk medicine and natural remedies for the treatment of common infections. Achiote is also among those herbs used in Colombian folk medicine to treat infections of microbial origin, mainly for the treatment of:
- infected wounds,
- topical ulcers, and as
- anti-parasitic agents
Achiote leaves have been employed to treat malaria and Leishmaniasis[8,10]. Its seeds contain carotenoids. The leave extracts of Achiote (Bixa orellana) showed also maximum activity against Bacillus pumilus