Next to caramel, annatto
is the world's most important natural colorant yielding yellow to red
colors. There is global commercial production of the seed, estimated
in 1990 at 10,000 tons per year; Brazil being the largest exported.
Atsuete is a tree reaching 4 to 6
meters. Leaves are entire, alternate with long petioles, ovate, 8 to 20 centimeters long, 5 to 12 centimeters wide,
with a broad and heart-shaped base, and a pointed tip. The flowers are
white or pinkish, 4 to 6 centimeters diameter, 4 to 6 centimeters in diameter on terminal
panicles. Fruits are spiny capsules, ovoid or rounded, reddish brown, about 4 centimeters long,
and covered with long, slender and soft spines. Fruit dry and split open in two parts exposing many small red seeds covered with a dye-yielding red pulp.
- Planted in and about towns throughout
- Native of tropical America.
- Widely cultivated and naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the rest of the world.
- Phytochemical screening yielded carbohydrates, steroids, alkaloids, proteins, flavonoids, terpenoids, phenolics, tannins and glycosides.
- Bixa orellana seeds are the only natural source of bixin, a carotenoid widely used in food industry as colorant.
- Seed contains a fatty oil with palmitin, a little stearin, and phytosterol.
- Study of carotenoid pigments in the seeds identified bixin, norbixin,
ß-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin and methyl bixin.
- Aqueous extracts yielded six major compounds viz. 2-butanamine, acetic acid, pentanoic acid (valeric acid), phenol, pantolactone, and benzoic acid. (see study below) (32)
- Root-bark is antiperiodic and antipyretic.
- Aphrodisiac and detoxifier.
- Leaves are diuretic, antipyretic, purgative.
- Seeds are slightly astringent.
- Fine powder covering the seed is hemostatic and stomachic.
- The pulp (annatto) surrounding the seeds is astringent and slightly
Leaves, bark and seeds.
· Seeds used locally for coloring food.
· Coloring matter used for commercially coloring butter.
· For small burns:
Wash the leaves with soap and water. Boil 10 leaves in 5 glasses of
water; cool. Soak the burn area for 10 minutes, once a day.
· The pulp of the seeds, immediately applied to, prevents
blistering and scarring. Pulp also used to treat bleeding, dysentery, gonorrhea, constipation and fever.
· The seeds, ground and boiled, also used for burns. Mixed with coconut, is applied to the throat.
· Decoction of bark used for febrile catarrh.
· Fresh seeds when moistened produce a reddish colored juice
that is applied to red rashes.
· The seeds are used as antidote for cassava and J. urcas poisoning.
· Fine powder that covers the seeds is used as hemostatic, and internally as stomachic.
· In French Guiana, infusion of leaves used as purgative in dysentery.
· Leaves used as febrifuge in Cambodia.
· Decoction of leaves used as gargle for sore throat.
· Seed oil used for leprosy.
· The achuete dye used with lime for the treatment of erysipelas.
· Also used for wound healing, regulation of heavy menses, and
· The leaf, bruised with the head of a "walis-tingting"
(broom made from frond ribs of the coconut leaves), mixed with warm
coconut oil is applied on the forehead for headaches.
· An infusion of the leaves used as purgative.
· Poultice of leaves are diuretic and used for treatment of gonorrhea
· Mucilage produced from infusion of fresh branches used a emollient in the Antilles..
· Leaves for snake bites.
· Extract of leaves, barks and roots used as antidote for poisoning from Manihot esculenta, J. curcas, and Hura crepitans.
· Decoction of leaves for nausea and vomiting.
• In traditional Peruvian medicine,
used to treat heartburn and stomach distress caused by spicy foods;
also, as a vaginal antiseptic and cicatrizant.
· In Uruguay seeds are ground and boiled and used on burns.
• In West Indian folk medicine, used for diabetes mellitus.
• In Guatemala used for treatment of gonorrhea.
• Female aphrodisiac in the Amazonia.
• Dye: The main product from B. orellana is an organic dye present
in the seed coat called "annatto," lipid-soluble and widely
used in the food industry for its red to orange-yellow colours (cheese,
butter, oils, margarine, ice-cream, pastries). Next to caramel, it is
the world's second most important food colorant. Besides providing an
attractive color to meat and other dishes, it also imparts a subtle
and distinctive flavour. In the cosmetic industry it finds use in hair,
nail and soap products, and also in the many of the household products
– floor wax, shoe polish, russet leather, wood stains.
• Wood: Lightweight, not durable. The fibrous bark used to make ropes and twine.
• Antimicrobial / Antifungal: The study screened plants extracts - including Bixa orellana
– for antimicrobial activity and MIC. B orellana showed low MIC against against E coli and a better MIC against B cereus. Results
showed that Bixa orellana, Justicia secunda and Piper pulchrum could
be potential sources of new antimicrobial agents. (1)
• Antimicrobial / Antifungal: Study of organic extract of BO showed to possess a narrow spectrum of antimicrobial activity, effective only against Gram+ bacteria used in the study.
• Antibacterial / Antioxidant / Antidiarrheal
/ Neuropharmacologic / Anticonvulsant/ Gastrointestinal Motility Effect:
Preliminary pharmacologic studies on the methanol extracts
of BO leaves showed statistical decrease in locomotor activity, anticonvulsant
effect, analgesic and antidiarrheal effect and a delay i gastrointestinal
motility. It also showed radical scavenging properties and antibacterial
activity against agents of diarrhea and dysentery.
• Hypoglycemic / Antidiabetic: Study of BO oil
seed suspension of the red seed coat showed it to be a potent hypoglycemic
agent. Extract study showed hypoglycemia in both normal and streptozotocin
• Hypoglycemic: Methanol extracts of B. orellana and L. acutangula showed significantly hypoglycemic activities in Swiss Webster mice.
• Hypoglycemic / Peripheral Utilization of Glucose: Study on C-peptide STZ-induced diabetic dogs showed a glucose lowering effect probably through stimulation of peripheral utilization of glucose. (13)
• Milk-based pigment: Study
showed B orellana seeds can be used as a pigment in making milk-based
• Anti-Gonorrheal: In a study of 46 plants popularly used in Guatemala for the treatment of gonorrhea, B orellana bark was one of the most active plants that inhibited strains of freshly isolated N gonorrhea. (11)
• Antibacterial / Anti-Staphylococcal Activity: Study showed crude ethanolic extracts from leaves of B orellana and bark of Alstonia macrophylla showed potential antibacterial effect against S aureus. (12)
• Aldose Reductase Inhibition: Study of hot water extracts of B orellana, C morifolim and I batatas showed potent inhibitory activity towards lens aldose reductase. Phytochemicals yielded isoscutellarein from B orellana as its potent inhibitor.
• No Effect on BPH Symptoms: Study on patients with BPH presenting with moderate lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) did not show any benefit from BO compared to placebo. (16)
• Bioactive Sesquiterpene: Study of extract of air-dried leaves yielded ishwarane, phytol, polyprenol, and a mix of stigmasterol and sitosterol. Results of the prophylactic assay demonstrated anti-toxic property. Acid writhing testing demonstrated minimal analgesic activity. (17)
• Radioprotective: Study evaluated the radioprotective effect of a hydroalcoholic extract of seeds of B. orellana on chromosome aberration in cells of bone marrow in irradiated mice. Pretreatment resulted in significant reduction in aberrant metaphases. Results suggest B. orellana may be used as radioprotective in humans. (19)
• Microwave Facilitated Bixin Extraction / Antioxidant Activity: Bixa orellana seeds are the only natural source of bixin, a carotenoid colourant. Microwave assisted extraction was shown to be the most effective extraction procedure for isolation of bixin. MAE is green technology, superior to conventional extraction methods. (21)
• Hypolipidemic Effect: Study of aqueous extract of seeds showed a hypolipidemic effect with reversal of hypertriglyceridemia induced by Triton, fructose and ethanol. (22)
• Diuretic Effect / Leaf: Various extracts of dried leaf powder were investigated for diuretic activity in Wistar rats. A methanolic extract showed significant diuretic activity by increasing total urine output and increased excretion of sodium potassium and chloride. Results were compared to standard drug furosemide. (24)
• Cardioprotective Effect / Leaf: Study evaluated the cardioprotective activity of an ethanol extract against isoproterenol-induced myocardial infarction in Swiss albino rats. A dose-dependent protective effect was observed. All parameters and markers were significantly reversed upon treatment with the extract and were comparable to a-tocopherol, together with histopath changes. (25)
• Anti-Leishmaniasis: Study of B. orellana extract in experimentally infected BALB/c mice showed significant activity against promastigote and amastigote forms of L. amazonensis. (27)
• Anti-Inflammatory / Bradykinin Inhibition: Study showed pretreatment with aqueous extract of B. orellano caused significant dose-dependent inhibitory activity against inflammatory models, the bradyknin-induced hind paw edema model and bradikinin-induced increased peritoneal vascular permeability.. The anti-inflammatory effect may be due to its antibradykinin activity related to a reduction of nitrous oxide production. (28)
• Anti-Leishmania: Study in mice showed activity of Bixa orellana against Leishmania amazonensis. Results showed significant activity against promastigote and amastigote forms of L. amazonensis. (30)
• Mosquito Repellent / Antioxidant: Study of fresh fruits, dried seeds, wood, bark and leaves yielded sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes, and arenes (α-humulene, D-germacrene, y0elemene and caryophyllene). Plant showed to be a good source of antioxidants. On repellency testing against A. aegypti, dried seed extracts showed significant skin protection activity. (31)
• Antihistamine / Anti-Inflammatory Activity: Study evaluated the major constituents of an aqueous extract of B. orellana and its antihistamine activity on acute inflammation-induced model in rats. Results showed anti-inflammatory activity attributed to the inhibitory effect on vascular permeability, suppressed as a result of reduced expression of biochemical mediators (NO and VEGF) in tissues. (see constituents above) (32)
• Poor Wound Healing Activity / Leaves : Study evaluated the wound healing activity of BO leaf extract in an excision wound healing model on guinea pigs. showed only slight decrease in wound area, not significantly different from the control group. The findings do not support or justify its use in folkloric medicine for wound healing. (33)
Small scale local cultivation for condiment and food colorant.
Worldwide production of annatto seeds for commercial and home use.