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)
- Phytochemical analysis of seeds
showed phenolic compounds and flavonoids to be present in all extracts. The maximum amount of phenolic compounds was found in the aqueous extract with 75.3 mg of GAE/g of extractive. Isolation of purified bixin was done from the seeds. (see study below) (39)
- 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.
Culinary / Edibility
· Seeds used locally for coloring food.
· In the food industry, used to color butter, margarine, mayonnaise, sauces, sausage, soup, ice cream, cheese, etc.
· 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.
• Powder from grinding seeds used as aphrodisiac. Infusion of cold buds used to wash inflamed eyes. Decoction of leaves used as antiemetic therapy in pregnancy. (35)
• Used as 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. [also see study below (40)]
• Wood / Fiber: 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 / Prospective Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study: Prospective double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study in patients with BPH presenting with moderate lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) associated with BPH 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 / Seeds: Study investigated the effect of an aqueous extract of Bixa orellana seeds in mice with hyperlipidemia induced by tyloxapol, fructose, and ethanol. Results showed a hypolipidemic effect with reversal of hyperlipidemia 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)
• Safety Study / Leaves : A 6-month study in humans given 750 mg of leaf powder per day showed no significant or serious adverse effects. Leaf extracts appear safe when given under the current conditions of use. Additional human and animal controlled and efficacy studies are needed. (36)
• Antioxidant / Seeds: Study evaluated protocols for extraction protocols for annato coloring fraction and its potential for pharmacologic applications and evaluated the in vitro antioxidant activity of seed extracts. Results showed good antioxidant activity in the DPPH and iron oxide reducing power assays and suggests a potential source of natural antioxidants. (37) Study evaluated various extracts for antioxidant activity using DPPH method. An aqueous extract showed the most significant antioxidant activity with IC50 of 20 µg/ml compared to standard ascorbic acid. (see constituents above) (39)
• Antimicrobial / Antifungal / Leaves: Study evaluated antimicrobial and antifungal activities of phenolic leaf extracts of Bixa orellana, L. camara, S. jamaicensis. and H. suaveolens against 4 bacterial strains (S. aureus, B. subtilis, E. coli and P. fluorescence) and 3 fungi (A. niger, A. flavus, and Mucor sp.). The phenolic extracts of all four plants showed antibacterial and antifungal activity with varying degrees of inhibition. The phenolic components were equivalent to Triclosa in antibacterial activity. (38)
• Natural Dye for Dyeing and Finishing Leather / Seeds: Study reports on the extraction of color from Bixa orellana seeds and its application in dyeing and finishing of leather. Results showed the natural dye with better coloring properties. (40)
• Anti-Cancer / Cytotoxicity Against Melanoma Cell Line / Seeds: Study analyzed the bioactive component of a petroleum ether extract of B. orellana seed and its anticancer potential against B16F-10 melanoma cell line. Results showed dose- and time-dependent cytotoxicity with IC50 values of 145.98 ± 7.49 µg/ml and 121.60 ± 6.20 µg/ml for 24 h and 48 h, respectively. The extract prevented the cell proliferation and migration of treated cancer cell. GC-MS analysis yielded three anticancer compounds viz. geranyl geraniol, squalene, and beta-sitosterol. Results showed potent anticancer and apoptotic inductive potential which can be further explored in in vivo model for possible cytotoxic activity. (41)
• Anticonvulsant / Antidiabetic / Seeds: Study analyzed various extracts for anticonvulsant activity in strychnine induced tonic convulsion in Swiss albino mice and antidiabetic activity in alloxan induced diabetic model in wistar rats. All extracts reduced convulsion in mice, with the diethyl ether extracts showing better activity compared to other extracts. All extracts reduced blood sugar levels, with the EA and n-butanol extracts showing better activity in comparison to the other extracts. (42)
• Suppression of Histamine-Induced Endothelial Hyperpermeability / Leaves: Study evaluated the protective effect of aqueous extract of B. orellana leaves against histamine-induced hyperpermeability in vitro. Results showed suppression of endothelial permeability which may be closely related with the inhibition of PLC-NO-cGMP (phospholipase C-nitric oxide-cyclic guanosine monophosphate) production and PKC (protein kinase C activity). (see also 32) (43)
• Indelible Ink: Study evaluated the feasibility of annatto seeds (Bixa orellana) and kasubha (Corcus sativus) together with cartridge ink as an alternative indelible ink. Results showed the ink set up that contains 30% cartridge ink, 30% kasubha extract, and 40% atsuete extract was the most effective and has a potential as alternative for indelible ink. (44)
• Hepatoprotective / Seed Oil: Study evaluated the pretreatment effect of B. orellana seed oil on CCl4-induced liver damage in male Wister rats. Results showed dietary exposure to seed oil exhibited moderate protection against carbon tetrachloride hepatotoxicity in rats, with significant (p<0.05) reduction in serum marker enzymes, lipid peroxidation, and relative liver weights induced by CCl4. (45)
• Open Wound Healing / Seed Oil: Study evaluated the oil extract of B. orellana as a healing agent in the rat model of open wound healing. Results showed B. orellana oil will hasten the onset of the healing process and its initial phases, but will ultimately produce a scar of poorer quality. (also see 33) (46)
• Anti-Malarial: Study of B. orellana through hairy root culture technology yielded secondary metabolites. Compounds 1-10 were evaluated for antimalarial properties. Compound 5 (stigmasterol) was the most potent lead compound. Stigmasterol and the other chemical constituents of hairy roots showed modest antimalarial properties in 3D7 and K1 strains with low toxicity in mammalian cells. (47)
- Small scale local cultivation for condiment and food colorant use.
- Worldwide production of annatto seeds for commercial and home use.