Anyone familiar with Latin American, Filipino or Caribbean cuisines knows the importance of annatto for color, flavor and spice. Annatto comes from the achiote tree, a tropical and lush plant grown in warm climates.
So what do you do when you’ve got to cook something but don’t have this key ingredient ? Luckily there’s a few substitutes you can try out, so here they are.
Best annatto powder substitute
The best substitutes for annatto powder include hibiscus powder, turmeric powder, nutmeg, beet powder and paprika. Neither of these will give you the full experience of annatto, but they will at least come close and provide some color.
The color of annatto has bright orange, red and yellow hues. This radiant spice is used to enhance the flavor of soups, stews, sauces and rice dishes, it also brings life to food.
Furthermore, annatto is a common ingredient in lipsticks, body paint and various cosmetic products. Let’s explore each substitute’s benefits and how they can be used in everyday cooking and beauty routines.
Hibiscus power is derived from sepals on the Malvaceae plant. Interestingly, the rich color of the powder comes from the plant’s fruit, not the flowers. The plant grows well in tropical climates and is added to beverages, cosmetics, herbal mixtures and dyes. The red color of the powder makes it a great substitute for annatto, or at least used in a combination.
Turmeric powder is extracted from the Curcuma longa plant. This plant is native to China and India, among others. India is the largest producer of turmeric powder, as it is an essential component in curry dishes. Turmeric serves a vital role in Southeast Asian cooking, and it’s an ideal substitute for annatto as the color hues are similar, with turmeric leaning more towards yellow.
Nutmeg comes from the evergreen tree Myristicaceae, grown in Eastern Indonesia. It is also grown and harvested in the West Indies. The flavor of nutmeg is sweet, aromatic and warm. The arils are a red, crimson color. It is a viable alternative to annatto when used in the right quantities.
Beet powder is derived from the entire beetroot. It is grown, harvested, dried and processed into a powder that can be easily added to food, cosmetics and crafts. Beet powder is best known for its ruby red, pink-hue color. Its vibrancy makes it a great substitute for annatto.
Paprika is a spice that comes from a variety of mild chili powders which are harvested, dried and ground into a powder. The spice level of paprika will vary based on the type of chili peppers included in the mixture.
While paprika can be sweet and mild, it can also be spicy and intense. It adds a bright orange and red color to various dishes. It can stand in for annatto when needed, while adding similar flavors and colors.
How to use annatto powder substitutes
As mentioned previously, these alternatives can be applied to cooking, cosmetics and crafts. With bright pigmentation and flavor, these alternatives are special and unique on their own.
For Hibiscus Powder: You can create a tangy hibiscus-infused vinaigrette or hibiscus-infused oil. These are both wonderful options on salad. To make this recipe, add hibiscus powder to your favorite vinegar or oil. Use 1 tablespoon and evenly mix the powder. You will taste the tart, fruity and fresh flavors that compliment most vinegars and oils well.
For Turmeric Powder: You can add turmeric to any rice dish for an instant flavor boost and color enhancement. Since turmeric is a strong and potent spice, start by adding 1/2 teaspoon with water when you begin cooking rice. Alternatively, you can add turmeric to lentils and legumes. Use olive oil, onions and other spices of choice.
For Nutmeg: Nutmeg can be added to butternut squash soup for a hearty and satisfying fall/ winter meal. Depending on how much of the flavor you want, a pinch or teaspoon of nutmeg is sufficient. Nutmeg helps to bring out the other flavors in the dish while adding a woody, bittersweet flavor.
For Beet Powder: Adding beet powder will instantly amplify any recipe and take it to the next level. This is true for beet powder smoothies. Not only is this vibrant powder a great addition to your post-workout “meal,” it also tastes amazing. Since the powder is potent, you only need 1 teaspoon when blending a smoothie. Add in other ingredients such as chia seeds, coconut water, banana, pineapple and frozen raspberries.
For Paprika: You can add paprika to black bean chili. Not only does the flavor explode in your mouth with spicy, peppery undertones, it also adds a rich color to your dish. Use black beans, onions, garlic, avocado oil, tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, 2 teaspoons of paprika and a pinch of salt to create a delicious and filling chili.
How to find the best annatto powder
There are many reasons why someone may need to substitute annatto, however there are a few ways to source exclusive annatto to ensure you have the spice in situations where it can’t be swapped out.
First and foremost, it is important to understand where annatto is grown today. It is widely grown in Central America and South America and is harvested and exported to North America, Europe and other parts of the world.
However, it can be difficult to find this spice at your local supermarket. Here are some tips for seeking out this gem the next time you need some color and flavor.
Visit a Spanish grocery store in your area that carries food native to Central and South America. Most cities in the United States have a Latin or Spanish grocery store that carries ingredients and herbs not typically found at a traditional supermarket. You should easily find annatto powder, and often times, it is less expensive than when sold at a regular supermarket.
Order annatto powder online from a health food shop or spice retailer. You can easily find high-quality, organic annatto powder online. Simply select the quantity of the spice you need and have it shipped straight to your door.
Purchase a blend of annatto blend. Many seasoning blends include annatto in their mixture, along with sea salt, garlic powder, paprika, coriander and cumin. All of these spices blended together are convenient when added to recipes, rather than measuring out each one. If you find it difficult to source plain annatto powder, consider a blend.
Bring color and spice into your life
Regardless of which substitute you select, annatto powder is a great way to add color and spice to your life through food, cosmetics and crafts. From body paint and lipstick to rice and stews, annatto has been a staple since the 16th century, native to Central America, South America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.