24 Substitutes For Annatto Seeds, Powder, Paste, And Oil

Looking for spice substitutes you can use when you run out of annatto powder? It’s all here. Just continue reading.

Herbs and spices are used for different purposes – their flavor, spicy taste, or color. Annatto is one of those spices used mainly for its vibrant red-orange color. Over the years, this spice has been adopted by various cuisines to impart a mild, earthy flavor.

Annatto is a common spice but sometimes it may be a little difficult to lay your hands on it. Having substitutes around will come in handy in these times, especially when you are in a pinch.

There are a lot of annatto substitutes you can use to achieve the same color and flavor and I have put together a list of them.

Some of these substitutes are somewhere in your kitchen cabinets or pantry. If you don’t have them around, don’t worry. They are readily available in stores.

What is annatto?

Annatto (or achiote) is known for the red-orange hue it adds to meals. Annatto is a spice that comes from the fruits of the achiote tree.

It is grown in hot, tropical climates which is why it is commonly used in Filippino, Caribbean, and Latin American cuisines. Annatto seeds have a sweet, peppery flavor and they lend this to dishes alongside their vibrant color.

Annatto can be purchased in seeds, powder, paste, or oil forms. Every other variation comes from processing the seeds. They all carry the color and earthy, sweet, and mildly peppery taste.

This spice is used as a food dye in some types of cheese, orange crackers, and some varieties of mustard. 

Culinary uses of annatto

Annatto is popularly used as a food colorant. It is added to soups, gravies, cheese, cakes, butter, smoked fish, margarine, and packaged popcorn to enhance their color. It is also used as a condiment in making marinades for meat, fish, and poultry.

Steeping annatto seeds in cooking oil produces annatto oil. Annatto oil is not a common oil, so, you can prepare the oil this way. This oil adds a rich flavor and color to soups, stews, rice, meat, and fish.

Annatto seeds and powder substitutes

1. Safflower

safflower as annatto seeds substitutes - millenora

Safflower tops this list because it has the closest similarity with annatto spice. This spice gives you the same vibrant color with little or no flavor, just like annatto.

You can make this substitution using an equal amount of safflower threads or powder. Also, this spice works for every recipe that requires annatto.

2. Saffron

saffron as annatto seeds substitutes - millenora

Saffron is also a good annatto substitute but there are some drawbacks. It will give you a red-orange hue, but this spice has a stronger flavor that may interfere with or overpower other flavors in your dish.

Moreover, it is quite expensive and may not always be readily available. But if you have saffron spice at home, use two or three threads to achieve the same result annatto will give you. Also, note that it may not be the ideal substitute for all recipes.

3. Turmeric powder

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Turmeric is commonly used as a curry and ginger substitute, but it also makes a good substitute for annatto seeds and powder. Its bright yellow color enhances the flavor of your meals without adding too much flavor or overpowering other flavors.

You can use fresh turmeric roots or turmeric powder. However, turmeric doesn’t pair well with every ingredient, so you might want to consider this. When using turmeric powder, use half the amount of annatto powder you would use.

4. Paprika

paprika powder - millenora

Paprika powder is made with dried red chilis. It has a lot of similarities with annatto powder in terms of color and peppery flavor. However, the spiciness of paprika powder varies with the type of chili used; some chilis are spicier than others.

You can make a 1:1 substitution and add a spicy pepper for more heat. Better still, you can look for paprika powder made with a very spicy chili. Paprika powder works well for roast chicken or black bean chili.

5. Ground cumin

cumin powder as annatto seeds substitutes - millenora

Cumin powder will make your meals more yellow than annatto. For every teaspoon of annatto, use ½ a teaspoon of cumin powder.

It is also available as whole seeds but it takes more time and effort to get the flavor out of the seeds, which is why the powder form is preferable.

Cumin powder has a similar earthy and mild peppery flavor to annatto seeds and powder, so it is a good substitute for your marinades, curries, stews, and soups.

6. Nutmeg powder

nutmeg powder as annatto seeds substitutes - millenora

If the annatto flavor is more of a priority for you than the color it gives your meal, nutmeg will make a good substitute. Nutmeg powder gives your meal a mild, woody flavor but will not give you a vibrant color.

Also, it has a richer flavor profile than annatto. Use nutmeg powder in small amounts so that it doesn’t overpower your dish.

7. Beet powder

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If you don’t mind the pinkish-red color, you may just like beet powder. It has a similar earthy taste to annatto powder, but it is sweeter. Beet powder is perfect for curries, salad dressings, smoothies, and some sauces.

You can also mix this powder with garlic, pepper, and salt to make a meat rub if you are not all about the red-orange hue of the annatto spice.

8. Hibiscus powder

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Hibiscus powder is your best bet if you need a substitute for beverages or salad dressings. Its red color is more pronounced than that of annatto. If you must get the red-orange hue, you must include other substitutes like turmeric.

In terms of flavor, hibiscus powder is not overbearing so you can use equal amounts to replace annatto powder or seeds.

To make a salad dressing – oil or vinaigrette – with hibiscus powder, add one tablespoon of the powder to the oil or vinegar.

9. Red bell pepper powder

red bell pepper powder - millenora

Red bell pepper powder works like chili powder. Its contribution is its vibrant red color and a little kick of heat. Also, if you want a spice that will add a smokey flavor to your meal, it is red bell pepper powder.

It is important to note that the level of spiciness of the red pepper powder will vary with the type of pepper you use. Also, start with small amounts and taste it at intervals to avoid making the dish too spicy.

10. Hemp seeds power

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Hemp seeds powder becomes a choice when you just need a spice to add any vibrant color to your dish.

Unlike annatto and most of the substitutes on this list, it is green and has a stronger earthy flavor. Hemp powder is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and many other nutrients.

Use hemp seeds powder as an annatto substitute in salad dressings, stews, or soups. For every teaspoon of annatto powder, use half a teaspoon of hemp seeds powder.  

11. Ginger powder

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You should only use ginger powder if you can stand the strong flavor and if your dish needs the ginger flavor.

Ginger powder gives your dish the yellow hue of annatto powder plus notes of spiciness. It works well in dishes like salads, dressings, and sauces that do not require heat in their preparation.

Your substitution ratio will depend on how much you love the ginger flavor in your meals.

Annatto paste substitutes

12. Harissa

harissa as annatto seeds substitutes - millenora

Harissa is a rich North African hot chili paste. This paste is made with red chilies, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and some other spices.

This paste is spicier than annatto paste but if you don’t mind the extra spiciness, you can make the substitute in a ratio of 1:1. Harissa is best for marinades, sauces, stews, and meat rubs.

13. Cumin and cayenne pepper mix

This substitute will not entirely give you the vibrant color annatto paste gives but you can be sure that it will help elevate the flavor of your dish.

Cumin brings an annatto-like flavor with mild notes of pepperiness while cayenne adds more heat to the seasoning mix. This mix substitutes annatto perfectly and enhances the flavor of stews, soups, and marinades that contain lots of garlic, tomatoes, and onions.

14. Sambal oelek

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Sambal oelek is an aromatic condiment that originates from Indonesia. It is a chili sauce made from crushed raw red chilies, vinegar, and salt. Like achiote, it has a tangy taste (due to the vinegar) but it is spicier. However, sambal oelek is not as spicy as harissa.

You can substitute this chili sauce for annatto in equal amounts when making meat rubs, sauces, stews, stir-fries, and marinades.

15. Chipotle chili paste

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If you have Chipotle chili paste at home, mix it with oregano, cumin, garlic powder, and vinegar to make a paste that looks like annatto paste.

Chipotle chili paste has more uses than the other annatto substitutes. Beyond flavoring grilled meats, stews, and Mexican rice, it can be used to enhance the flavors of dishes like Cochinita Pibil and Sopa de Lima.

16. Guajillo chili powder

Guajillo chili pepper - millenora

Guajillo chili powder is made from dried guajillo peppers. It is powdery but you can transform it into a paste by mixing it with other spices cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and vinegar or lime juice. It works well for marinades, sauces, stews, and meat rubs.

The paste is an excellent alternative for annatto because it has a mild earthy taste, has little heat, and won’t overpower your dish. A 1:1 ratio substitution will do. If you want more heat, you can add more peppers.

17. Paprika paste

The paprika paste is a combination of paprika powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, and vinegar or lime juice. You make a 1:1 substitution in your stews, sauces, dry meat rubs, marinades, and paella.

It perfectly mimics the sweet and smoky flavor of annatto paste and will also enhance the color of your dish.

18. Turmeric paste

Turmeric paste will give you the closest similarity in terms of color, but it has a more intense flavor that may try to overpower other flavors in your dish.

If you find the vibrant color and intense flavor overbearing, adjust the amount to suit your preference. Otherwise, you can use a 1:1 substitution.

To make turmeric paste, dissolve turmeric powder in a small amount of white vinegar to form a smooth paste. Add this paste to your marinades, rice dishes, and stews as a flavor enhancer.

19. Sazon seasoning

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Sazon seasoning is a is popular in Latin American cuisine. It is a mixture of garlic powder, coriander, and cumin. Some varieties include annatto for vibrant color. If you find a sazon seasoning that includes annatto powder, you’ve found a good substitute.

Use an equal amount of sazon seasoning to replace the achiote paste. Remember to dissolve the seasoning with lime juice or white vinegar before using it as a meat rub or adding it to your stews, beans, or rice dishes.

20. Tex Mex paste

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This Southwestern condiment is made with ancho chili peppers, garlic, cumin, and some other spices which vary with brands. If you use annatto to enhance the flavor of your taco fillings, Tex Mex paste will make a good substitute for your recipe if you are out of supply.

However, Tex Mex is not a commercial paste. There are recipes you can follow to make yours at home. To use Tex Mex as a meat rub, add some olive oil. For taco fillings, add your taco seasoning for more flavor before you use it.

21. Homemade achiote paste

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You can make your achiote paste at home if you can’t find any in the stores. Homemade paste also means you can make as much as you like and create your flavors by using more or less of a particular ingredient. Moreover, you are assured of fresh paste.

For homemade achiote paste, you need annatto seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried oregano, peppercorns, cloves, garlic, bitter orange juice, and kosher salt.

Start with pounding or milling the seeds to powder. Afterward, blend the powder with the bitter orange juice, garlic, and salt until you have a smooth paste. Transfer the paste to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Annatto oil substitutes

Annatto oil is used to improve the color of meals without adding any extra flavors. But when used in larger amounts, it gives meals a mild peppery taste with earthy and slightly bitter undertones. Here are some substitutes you can use in place of annatto oil:

22. Food coloring

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If all you need is the vibrant red-orange hue of annatto, a good coloring will be better. Food colorings do not impart the flavor or aroma of your dish.

To create the annatto color, dissolve two drops of yellow and one drop of red colorings in one tablespoon of water, stock, or any other non-oil liquid. Add the coloring to your dish and watch it transform your recipe.

23. Turmeric and paprika mix

Half a teaspoon of turmeric and half a teaspoon of paprika together make a good substitute for one teaspoon of annatto oil. As you know, turmeric contributes its vibrant yellow and paprika lends its vibrant red alongside its earthy, smoky, and sweet taste.

24. Homemade annatto oil

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With annatto seeds and your regular cooking oil, you can make a homemade version of annatto oil. Heat the seeds in vegetable oil until the oil begins to sizzle.

Afterward, reduce the heat so the seeds simmer in the oil until the red-orange color of the seeds steeps into the oil.

When you are satisfied, take the pot off the heat and leave the oil to cool. Strain the seeds out of the oil and store the oil in an airtight jar or bottle.

Why do you need substitutes for annatto?

You need to have annatto substitutes on hand for days when you run out of this spice. Also, if you tend to find the flavor and color overwhelming or need something different for your meal, these substitutes will come in handy.


Can you use achiote paste as a substitute for annatto seeds?

You may use achiote paste as a substitute for annatto seeds if you don’t mind the paste-like consistency in your dish. Also, you should consider if the strong flavor of the paste works well for your recipe.

Can annatto oil be a substitute for annatto paste?

Annatto oil cannot be used in place of annatto paste. The oil form is not as thick as the paste and won’t give your dishes the paste-like consistency the paste will.  Moreover, annatto oil has a milder flavor profile than the paste.

If you cannot get annatto paste from the stores, make a DIY paste with annatto seeds, coriander seeds, dried oregano, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, garlic, kosher salt, and Mexican lime juice.

What are the health benefits of eating annatto?

Adding annatto spice to your meals comes with a lot of health benefits. Some of these benefits are antioxidants, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, reduced inflammation, improved heart health, bowel cleansing, improved eye health, and anti-cancer properties.  

Are there people who should not eat annatto?

Annatto is not a known allergen. It is generally safe for everyone. However, some people have shown allergic reactions to this spice. This is rare but this allergy manifests as hives, itchiness, swelling, stomach pain, and low blood pressure.


Annatto is preferred for its coloring effect in meals. However, when picking substitutes for this spice, you should consider the flavor profile of the meal you need the substitute for.

Some of these substitutes have a stronger flavor profile than annatto and you might not need that for your dish.

Also, it would be best if you worked with your personal preferences. So, when next you go shopping for spice, stock up on substitutes as some of these will come in handy as substitutes for other herbs and spices.

Finally, here is a list of oregano substitutes you can use when making soups, sauces, and pasta.

Thanks for reading.