Aceite de Achiote – island gold

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Aceite de Achiote is a staple in all the islands of the Caribbean and the West Indies and also used frequently in Indian cooking.  Aceite is the Spanish word for “oil” and achiote are the small seeds from the annatto tree.  They are prized for their slightly bitter, earthy flavor and the brilliant gold color they impart.  The seeds look like tiny, red rocks.  But when they meet with cooking oil and heat up, a gorgeous orange/yellow color is produced.  The oil is used when cooking beans, soups, stews and pasteles.  Here in the States annatto extract is often used to color butter and certain cheeses.  If you don’t have it saffron or paprika can be substituted but there are so many exotic, ethnic markets it should be easy to find.  If you have a choice between whole seed and ground always go for whole.  It’s much easier to strain!  Here in South Florida it’s sold in just about every grocery store in the spice section.  Heat in a medium-sized pot with 2 cups of canola or vegetable oil to 1/2 cup annatto seeds.  Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.  Strain and cool.  Discard used seeds.  Achiote oil will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely under a tight lid.  Be careful not to  get any oil on your clothing as it does stain.  That goes for wooden spoons and certain plastics as well.

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