All About Achiote
Here in the Southwest, chances are pretty good that everyone's had their fair share of Mexican food. But as much as we all love to eat the stuff, how much do we really know about the flavors that we're so helplessly addicted to? Unless you grew up with a Mexican grandmother (don't we wish) or have seriously studied Mexican cuisine (like Erica O'Neil, our Chow Bella contributor who kindly pens Taco the Town each week), you might not know much beyond rice + beans + tortilla + tasty meat = yummy Mexican food.
This week, Mexican cuisine is the prime focus for Spice Girl, our latest series discussing all things spicy: how spices are used, where to find them, plus a sprinkling of culture and history. This week we're taking a long hard look at achiote, also called annatto. These rusty red seeds are made into an extract that is often used as coloring for items like butter and cheddar cheese, but achiote can provide much more than its signature color.
No matter how much or how little you know about Mexican culinary practices, you probably remember eating a bright red sauce with some varieties of tamales and enchiladas. That red color typically comes from tomatoes and chilies, but in Oaxaca and Yucatan, achiote paste (a.k.a. recado rojo) is often included as well, making the sauce extra bright. Although achiote seeds don't pack a ton of flavor, they provide a distinctive peppery and nutty note with a little sweetness, which can lend an extra depth to sauces.