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How To Make Annatto Oil

The deep red-orange, slightly nutty-tasting cooking oil known as annatto oil (or achiote oil) is a common ingredient in Latin American cooking. Whether you use it to infuse your Mexican rice with color and flavor, or to marinate chicken or pork for a sumptuous entree, annatto oil imparts a unique warming quality to Latin American dishes that simply can’t be substituted with anything else.

Finding annatto oil can be troublesome if you don’t live in an urban area. The good news is that making your own annatto oil is extremely easy, and while annatto seeds themselves may not be available at everyone’s local corner store, they are nonetheless easier to find than their oily counterpart, appearing increasingly on the shelves of major chain supermarkets.

Making your own annatto oil is so simple that calling the following procedure a recipe almost seems like a misnomer. The only two ingredients required for making homemade annatto oil are annatto seeds and an oil base. You can use olive oil, canola oil, corn oil or vegetable oil, though using extra virgin olive oil leads to a particularly flavorful result, with the fruitiness lending an extra, subtle taste layer.

Think of this less as a recipe and as more of a simple proportion. Specifically, you’ll want to use 1 1/2 tablespoons of annatto seeds for every 4 tablespoons of oil. If you’re making a cup of annatto oil, for instance, you’ll need a cup of oil and 6 tablespoons of annatto seeds. One and a half cups of annatto oil will require 1 1/2 cups of oil and 9 tablespoons of annatto seeds. Unlike other recipes, where changing ingredient proportions can lead to disaster, this one is foolproof.

Your first step is to combine the oil and annatto seeds in a small saucepan, and place them over medium heat. You’ll want to stick by the saucepan to keep an eye on how things are heating up. The entire cooking process will take less than 15 minutes.

When the oil starts to bubble, remove the pan from the heat. Make sure not to overcook the annatto seeds, as doing so will turn the seeds black and lead to a bitter and inedible annatto oil. Let the seeds soak in the hot oil for 30 minutes, until the oil has largely cooled, and the seeds have a chance to fully infuse the oil. 

Place a fine mesh strainer over a glass jar and pour the oil through the strainer, catching the seeds and discarding them. Cover the jar tightly and place in the refrigerator. Sealed properly and refrigerated, your homemade annatto oil will keep for up to eight weeks: preparing a batch in advance of a big dinner is a smart way to take the edge off of the stress.

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