10 Achiote Powder Substitutes [Flavor & Food Coloring]

I have been making a lot of Mexican foods lately. My family loves spicy foods and I am more than happy to have Taco Tuesday every week!

However, I have been having quite a hard time finding achiote powder in my local grocery stores. 

I have searched and searched and still can’t find this tasty spice. Luckily, there are quite a few substitutes for achiote powder that work really well. 

I have found that you can get that deep red color and smokey flavor using other spices.

The best substitute for achiote powder is smoked paprika. If you are using achiote powder as a food dye, replace it with ground safflower. If you can’t find achiote powder in stores, homemade achiote powder would work best with ground annatto seeds.

Best Substitutes For Achiote Powder

The further away you are from South America, the harder it will be to find achiote powder. We have found ten different replacements for achiote powder that all work well.

1. Smoked Paprika – Best Spice Substitute For Achiote Powder

Smoked paprika is very easy to find in most grocery stores. It is a deep red color and has a smokey, earthy flavor just like achiote powder. 

Smoked Paprika

Replace achiote powder with the same quantity of smoked paprika. Your recipes will taste great and also have that signature golden color!

2. Ground Cumin

Ground cumin has a similar flavor to achiote but with a little more heat.

Cumin has a peppery, citrus and earthy flavor that tastes almost identical to achiote powder. Replace achiote powder with the same quantity of ground cumin in your recipes. 

ground cumin

Ground cumin should be in the spice aisle of almost every grocery store. It will make your foods have more of a yellowish color compared to the red of achiote powder.

However, it is a very good substitute for achiote when you need the same flavor profile.

3. Sazon Seasoning Mix

You may be able to find Sazon bran seasoning mix in the Mexican food aisle. This is a very popular spice mix that is made with ground annatto seeds.

Use double the amount of sazon seasoning mix to get the same taste as ground achiote powder. 

While the spice isn’t purely achiote powder, it does have a little bit of the spice mixed in.

It will give your foods the Mexican vibe you are looking for. Since it is so popular, you should be able to find it almost anywhere! 

4. Safflower

Crushed safflower threads will turn any food a rich, yellow color. The color of safflower is almost identical to the color of achiote powder. 

Add ground safflower just as you would use achiote powder. The quantity is exactly the same.

Safflower has almost no flavor so it will not affect the taste of your foods. It will only make your food pretty!

5. Saffron – Great Colorant Alternative to Achiote Powder

Ground saffron also turns food a pretty orange, yellow color. However, saffron does have a pretty strong flavor.

Adding saffron to your dish will make it have a bitter taste, like achiote powder, but it will also add the flavor of sweet grass and metal. 

Use half the amount of ground saffron. If a recipe asks of one teaspoon of achiote powder, use only ½ teaspoon ground saffron. 


Saffron tends to be pretty expensive. While it will make your food look pretty, it will cost quite a bit!

6. Turmeric

Turmeric is often used to color foods in Asian cuisine. You can achieve a very bright golden color using just a tiny bit of turmeric in place of achiote powder. 

It will give your food a strong earthy taste so keep that in mind! Use half the amount of turmeric to achieve that brilliant color you are looking for. 

7. Annatto Oil

Look for annatto oil on shelves with other flavored oils in your grocery store.

Annatto oil has the same smokey flavor as achiote paste. Using annatto oil will keep your foods tasting and looking the same!

Use annatto oil to saute or marinate your foods. Rather than adding achiote powder at the end of a recipe, use annatto oil in the beginning. Since it is an oil rather than a powder, it is used slightly differently. 

If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of achiote powder, use 2 teaspoons of annatto oil. This will give you the same flavor.

8. Annatto Seeds – Great Annatto Replacement For Achiote Powder

Whole annatto seeds are an easy replacement for achiote powder. You can grind the seeds or infuse them into an oil.

One teaspoon of freshly ground annatto seeds can replace one teaspoon of Achiote powder. 

You may be able to find whole annatto seeds in bulk. Buy extra so you have them on hand!

9. Annatto Paste

Annatto paste or achiote paste is a thick mixture of ground annatto seeds and oil. It is often sold in a solid brick form or in a square box.

Annatto paste can be used just like achiote powder to flavor and color foods. 

Use annatto paste just like achiote powder. The quantity does not need to be adjusted!

10. Homemade Achiote Powder

If you can’t find achiote powder in stores, you can try making your own! Making achiote powder is super easy.

Grinding fresh annatto seeds will also give you a very powderful, fresh flavor. Nothing can compare to freshly ground spices!

Take a look below at how to make achiote powder then give it a try. You will not be disappointed. 

What Is Achiote Powder?

Achiote powder is a deep red spice that is made from annatto seeds. It is often called annatto powder. 

Annatto seeds grow inside the spiny fruit of the achiote tree. You can find these beautiful trees all across South America and the Caribbean.

This is why achiote powder is so widely used in South American and Caribbean cuisine- they have unlimited access to the spice!

Different Names For Achiote Powder

Achiote powder goes by a few different names. Where you live or the cuisine you are cooking may use a different name for the same achiote powder.

Here is a very quick look at the different names for achiote powder


This term is commonly used in Mexico and Spanish speaking countries. 


Most Caribbean islands call the spice annato. This is also the term used in a few areas in South America. 


The spice is called roucou in Trinidad and Tabago and Martinique.


Achiote powder is known as achuete in the Philippines.


If you are making a recipe from the Tupi-Gurani Indians of the Amazon, you make see achiote powder being referred to as urucul powder. 

Red annatto seeds powder

All of these unique names actually mean the same thing. Achiote powder tastes the same no matter what it is called!

How To Use Achiote Powder

Achiote powder has a very tart taste. It can be a little bit smokey and is often described as having an earthy flavor. Hints of mint and also mace are noticeable in the spice as well. 

Besides adding a unique flavor to foods, achiote powder is widely used to add color to foods.

The deep red spice turns almost any food a brilliant orange, red color. A little bit of achiote powder will make foods have a bright, flame colored hue. 

The color of achiote powder is so unique and strong that the spice is used to color textiles and makeup.

Foods That Use Achiote Powder

While it is very interesting that achiote powder can be used to dye fabrics, I am far more interested in it’s culinary uses. I cook way more often than I am dyeing clothes! 

Lots of Mexican, Caribbean and Southern American foods use achiote powder. Yellow rice called sofrito is a common dish that uses achiote powder.

Achiote marinated chicken is quite popular. A little achiote powder in hot chocolate was a signature dish of the Aztecs. 

Achiote powder is found in lots of fish, chicken and pork dishes. If you see that bright yellow, red color, you know that achiote powder is probably there! 

The classic Filipino stew called Kare-Kare relies on ground achiote powder to get the bright orange color.

Kwek kwek are another perfect example of foods that need achiote powder. Kwek kwek are hard boiled eggs that are dipped in a bright orange batter and then deep fried.


How To Make Achiote Powder

Freshly ground annatto seeds are potent, flavorful and will add lots of color to your foods.

All you need to do is grab a mortar and pestle and pound the whole annatto seeds into a fine powder. That’s it! We told you making achiote powder was easy!

If you do not have a mortar and pestle, any dish to grind the seeds will work.

You can also put the annatto seeds in a food processor and pulse them until they are a powder. Grind your achiote powder fresh to get the most flavor possible. 

Final Considerations

Next time you can’t find achiote powder in the stores, don’t worry! Just give one of these achiote powder substitutes a try.

They will all work well and you can continue on your way, creating delicious, brilliantly colored foods. I know I did! Enjoy.

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