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Achiote Seed (Annatto Seed)

A beautiful deep red seed, “Annatto Seed” can add color to a bird’s meal that may entice your bird to try out that new dish!

“Achiote” is derived from the Spanish word “achiyotl” which means “red earth, red ochre.” (2)


The botanical name of achiote seed is:Bixa Orellana L.

Order: Malvales
Family: Bixaceae
Genus: Bixa
Species: B. orellana
Bionomial name: Bixa Orellana Linn (2)

Other names this spice may be known by are:
Annatto Seed
Achiote, Anatta, Annato, Annotta, Aploppas, Arnotta, Arnotto, Orellana, Orlean, Orleana
French: rocou, roucou
German: Annatto
Italian: annatto
Spanish: achiote, achote
Argentine: urucu
Caribbean: bija, bijol, foucou
Indian: latkhan, sendri
Philipines: achuete, atsuwete

Some of the main constituents (chemical composition) in achiote are:

Analysis of annatto seeds indicates that they contain 40% to 45% cellulose, 3.5% to 5.5% sucrose, 0.3% to 0.9% essential oil, 3% fixed oil, 4.5% to 5.5% pigments, and 13% to 16% protein, as well as alpha- and beta-carotenoids and other constituents. Annatto oil is extracted from the seeds and is the main source of pigments named bixin and norbixin, which are classified as carotenoids. Bixin, extracted and used as a food colorant, has been shown to protect against ultraviolet rays and to have antioxidant and liver protective properties in clinical research.

In addition to bixin and norbixin, annatto contains bixaghanene, bixein, bixol, crocetin, ellagic acid, ishwarane, isobixin, phenylalanine, salicylic acid, threonine, tomentosic acid, and tryptophan. (4)

On a scale from very low to extremely high:
I cannot find an exact measurement for annatto seed, but the sources I find seem to imply a “low” level of salicylates.
I insert the level of salicylates here due to the fact I have found this naturally occurring food constituent/food chemical triggers barbering, cutting, picking, plucking, and self-mutilation in birds who engage in feather destruction. I have even witnessed salicylates causing anaphylactic shock in certain birds. When too many foods containing high amounts of salicylates are feed to any given bird “stacking” these foods can cause a cascade of health problems including, but not limited to itching, picking, plucking, barbering, self-mutilation, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, seizures, lethargy, internal hemorrhaging, and even death. Many OTC (over-the-counter avian remedies contain laboratory-produced salicylates as buffers, fillers, thickeners and extenders). “Salic acid”, which is the base of salicylates, is the primary ingredient in aspirin obtained from the Willow Tree, but all plant matter contains this naturally occurring constituent to differing degrees, some very high to others at lower amounts. Simply stated salic acid is a blood thinner.

Because of the deep red color the seeds are high in carotenoids. They are also extremely high in Vitamin E (tocotrienols). Both of these constituents make annatto seeds a very good antioxidant; they are believed to help in the protection of eye and skin health. Annatto seeds contain a relatively high amount of calcium and a very high amount of folate. Annatto is known to have anti-fungal properties against candida albicans and low anti-fungal properties against T. mentagrophytes. In addition achiote seeds are known to have low anti-bacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and P. aeruginosa. It is inactive against B. subtilis and A. niger. Achiote seeds show anti-microbial properties against pharyngitis, gingivitis, bronchitis, infected wounds, topical ulcers, and as anti-parasitic agents. (5) The “norbixin” in annatto acts as an anti-carcinogen and acts as an anti-mutagenic aiding healthy cells to abate attack by cancerous cells. (6)(7)

However, use of this herb does not come without considerations, warnings and extreme caution when utilizing it in connection with our companion birds.

Taking into account that exotic birds are small, delicate creatures with very efficient and uniquely designed digestive tracts we must remember to use diluted levels of all herbs, spices, and OTC remedies when treating or feeding our birds.

Main Preparation Method: seed maceration or capsules.
Main Actions (in order):
antioxidant, hepatoprotective (liver protector), insect repellant, diuretic, hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol)

Main Uses:

  • to tone, balance, and strengthen liver function and for hepatitis andliver inflammation/pain
  • for high cholesterol
  • for skin care and skin anti-aging (for its antioxidant and ultraviolet ray [UV]-protective effect)
  • as a strong diuretic
  • for high blood pressure

Properties/Actions Documented by Research:
antioxidant, hepatoprotective (liver protector), hyperglycemic; also used as a food-coloring agent

Other Properties/Actions Documented by Traditional Use:
expectorant, hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol), hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), insect repellant, wound healer.

I would personally feed Annatto Seed as a whole seed in small, incremental doses mixed with food. I believe feeding this crushed or powdered in higher doses by a novice is unnecessary. As a food colorant and flavoring to attract our birds to their meal is fine and will have the advantage of some amount of antioxidant properties, but that is all that is needed from this wonderful spice!

Achiote seed might raise blood sugar levels and may potentiate medications used to treat hypertension.

ORAC Values:
USDA’s statement regarding the ORAC value:
Personally I believe this statement is “bunk” and I believe the antioxidant properties in foods do matter.
And of course here the USDA is contradicting themselves only years earlier:
For this reason I will supply the ORAC value of each food, herb and spice when available.
ORAC value of achiote: Not found. Will update if found.

Nutritional Profile:
Annatto Nutritional value per 5 tsp
Energy 108 kcal
Carbohydrates  20 g
Dietary fiber       11 g
Fat g      0.0
Protein 4.0 g
Folate (Vit. B9) 87.8g      22%
Vitamin C  21 mg               1%
Calcium  75 mg  5%
Sodium 5 mg
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.

Interesting videos:

Ref: (1); (2); (3); (4); (5);

(6); (7);
(8); (9)

©2.1.16   Machelle Pacion   Passion Tree House LLC   All Rights Reserved
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