Annatto, sometimes called roucou or achiote, is derived from the seeds of the achiote trees of tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The seeds are sourced to produce a carotenoid-based yellow to orange food coloring and flavor. Its scent is described as "slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg" and flavor as "slightly nutty, sweet and peppery".
In commercial processing, annatto coloring is extracted from the reddish pericarp which surrounds the seed of the achiote (Bixa orellana L.). Historically, it has been used as coloring in many cheeses (e.g., Cheddar, Gloucester, Red Leicester), cheese products (e.g. American cheese, Velveeta), and dairy spreads (e.g. butter, margarine). Annatto can also be used to color a number of non-dairy foods such as rice, custard powder, baked goods, seasonings, processed potatoes, snack foods, breakfast cereals and smoked fish. It has been linked to cases of food-related allergies.
Annatto is commonly used in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines as both a coloring and flavoring agent. Central and South American natives use the seeds to make body paint and lipstick. For this reason, the achiote is sometimes called the "lipstick tree". Achiote originated in South America and has spread in popularity to many parts of Asia. It is also grown in other tropical or subtropical regions of the world, including Central America, Africa and Asia. The heart-shaped fruit are brown or reddish brown at maturity, and are covered with short, stiff hairs. When fully mature, the fruit splits open, exposing the numerous dark red seeds. The fruit itself is not edible, however the orange-red pulp that covers the seed is used to produce a yellow to orange food coloring. Achiote dye is prepared by grinding seeds or simmering the seeds in water or oil.