Annatto: Is It Safe for Cooking?

Annatto: Is It Safe for Cooking?

Due to its adverse reactions on health, food dyes used for coloring and flavoring are commonly avoided. One such additive is known as annatto. However, unlike other additives that are chemically laden, this is an all-natural dye. It gives color and flavor to food, plus a wealth of other health benefits. What else is there to learn about this natural additive?


What Is Annatto?

Depending on where an individual is from, the name of annatto varies. It is called atsuete, urucum, onoto, or achiote. The additive is extracted from the achiote tree’s seeds. Due to its vibrant hue, it is widely used as a coloring agent. The vibrant color is mostly due to its carotenoid content. Carotenoids are plant pigments found in the seed’s coating.

As a condiment, it is similar to turmeric, saffron, and paprika. Food that uses this additive ranges from deep orange to yellow. The additive also boosts a dishes’ flavor and scent. It is a staple ingredient in Caribbean, Filipino, and Latin American dishes.



  1. Neutralizes Effects of Free Radicals

This additive is packed with antioxidants which are beneficial in fighting the effects of unstable molecules called free radicals. It is these unstable molecules that accumulate and damage the cells. Aside from its antioxidant content, it also contains a high amount of carotenoids, particularly bixin. It is a carotenoid that is known as a powerful antioxidant.

  1. Eradicates Bacteria

It has potent antimicrobial properties effective against certain bacteria that lead to foodborne illnesses or staph infections. With illness-causing bacteria rid from the system, one’s health is boosted.

  1. Prevents Diseases of the Bones

This additive is packed with tocotrienol, which is a type of vitamin E that aids in keeping the bones healthy and strong. While more study is needed on the effects of annatto on bone health, it proves to be a promising treatment for bone disorders like osteoporosis, especially when combined with adequate vitamin D intake, regular exercise, and balanced meals.

  1. Reduces the Risk for Heart Disease

The main carotenoid in this additive, known as bixin, is said to help reduce the risk of getting heart diseases. However, the study was done on rabbits. It showed that bixin reduced atherosclerosis by 55 percent. Further research is needed to check the effects of the additive on humans.

  1. Reduces the Risk for Eye Disorders

Another carotenoid found in the additive is norbixin which is connected to better eye health. A study done on rats show that norbixin significantly reduced the amounts of a compound linked to macular degeneration. This is a type of eye disorder often leading to loss of vision. Again, more research on the effects of norbixin on humans needs to be conducted.

  1. Speeds Up Wound Healing

While it is commonly used as an additive to food, annatto seeds are ground and added to skincare products. It helps hasten the healing of wounds as well as nourishes and improves the appearance of the skin.


Side Effects

The additive is safe for use, mainly when utilized in food preparation. However, there are some cases where it may trigger adverse reactions. While it is not listed as an allergen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it may cause other individuals to manifest an allergic reaction after consumption. You may have an allergy to this additive if you manifest the following symptoms.

  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Hives
  • Swelling or Inflammation

The symptoms mentioned above show up approximately 20 minutes after consuming a dish made with the annatto. It is advisable to seek the assistance of an immunologist if you suspect an allergic reaction to the additive.

It may also trigger symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The symptoms include:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea

If you show any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above, then discontinue the use of annatto whether as a food additive or a medicine. Consult with your doctor for treatment of the symptoms and other alternatives to the additive.



It is deemed safe for use in food. However, not much study has been done regarding its safety in terms of medicinal use. For the following individuals, take note of the precautions when it involves this additive.

  • For Breastfeeding or Pregnant Women

No reliable information provided regarding the use and safety of the additive. It is best to avoid food that contains them.

  • For Diabetics

The additive may affect one’s blood glucose levels. It may either raise or lower it. So, monitor your blood glucose levels, especially after consuming food made with the additive.

  • For Individuals with a Scheduled Surgery

As mentioned, the additive may interfere with the levels of glucose in the blood. Avoid food with the additive and discontinue use as a medication for at least two weeks prior to the surgery.


Is It Safe?

While most food dyes are deemed unsafe and have even been linked to cancer, this holds for artificial food dyes. These are loaded with questionable ingredients and chemicals. On the other hand, all-natural dyes used for food coloring and flavoring are safe.

Since it is taken from the seeds of a plant, this food dye is generally safe for consumption. Of course, there are side effects that one should take note of. However, in terms of its nutritional value, it is not only safe but healthy as well.

It contains a healthy amount of carotenoids which play various vital roles in the body. According to studies, carotenoids reduce the risk of getting certain cancers such as the neck, head, and lung cancers. It is also vital to the health of one’s brain, eyes, and skin.

The additive is also an excellent source of tocotrienols. These are the chemicals that help in preventing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. Other research claims that tocotrienols defend the nervous system against diseases.

In studies done on mice, the additive causes no toxicity in low levels. The main thing is that the FDA has deemed annatto safe for use as well as the European Food Safety Authority.

Benefits of Annatto

Mom Pamper

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