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Le roucou, Bixa orellana, Bixa americana, colorant alimentaire


The bixaceae include only one genus Bixa.

The ACHIOTE TREE is a small tree, native to tropical America and which has been introduced in many countries with a tropical-equatorial climate, it is not demanding on the quality of the soil but requires abundant rainfall for a few months.

BIXA ORELLANA is mainly cultivated in India and Indonesia, but it is very present in Africa, South America and Central America, as well as throughout the Caribbean region.

The fruit is a dark red capsule covered with flexible spines which contains about 10 to 20 small pyramidal seeds coated with an orange-red substance that persists after desiccation.

In practice, the plant Bixa orellana is referred to as the achiote tree but also as the annatto tree




The seeds contain about 45-50% carbohydrate, 13-16% protein, about 3% fat, very little essential oil (0.2-0.8%), tannin, and saponins.

The seed coat contains carotenoid pigment which corresponds to 3 to 6% of the weight of achiote seeds, this colored substance is annatto.

These carotenoids are mainly present in the waxy coating of the seeds.

These are yellow-orange or red pigments depending on the proportion of the two main constituents very similar chemically :

- BIXIN soluble in fatty substances and frankly RED,
- NORBIXIN soluble in water and YELLOW-orange in color.

The pigments of annatto, although carotenoids, are not precursors of vitamin A (unlike carotene in carrots, for example, which is a provitamin A)

The shell of the fruit contains resin and tannins.

The bark of the seeds is said to be deworming.

The seeds themselves contain a toxic compound, drastic purgative (saponin or alkaloid?).

The TRAMIL pharmacological network (active in the West Indian region) studied Bixa orellana.
The plant is non-toxic except for the seed and still little (LD50 700 mg / kg in mice intraperitoneally) by action on the pancreas and the liver.


The aqueous extract (infusion-decoction) of achiote leaves would be slightly immunostimulating, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic.

The hydroalcoholic extract (alcoholic tincture)) would be effective in helping the healing of gastric ulcers perhaps by its strong antibacterial power confirmed by in vitro studies.

The fresh sap is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.


Annatto and the Amerindians

The Amerindian populations who isolated and cultivated the achiote tree (the wild species is not known) used it as adornment and as magical protection.

Among the Indians of the Amazon rainforest everything became orange-red by contact, their hammock, their loincloth.

The Indians applied annatto mixed with an animal or vegetable fatty substance (like Carapa oil = Andiroba).

Without his red body adornment, the Amazonian Indian was quite "naked", weakened, he generally hastened to paint himself from head to toe.
The annatto does not seem to have any particular cosmetic qualities except as a sun filter, it is the fatty thinner, the vegetable oil which protects the skin.
For the Indians of Amazonia the annatto is a magical plant that protects and dresses them.

The food coloring ANNATO

The annatto extract (the coloring) is a non-toxic food additive (E 160b) (acceptable daily dose 2 mg / kg), it is used to give a pleasant color to certain excessively refined vegetable oils, to butter, to many cheeses ( eg: gouda from Holland, mimolette in France, some English cheddar) but also dried fish (haddock fillet).
It is increasingly present in "industrial" food (dairy products, pastry, sauces, ready meals).

It is incorporated into poultry feed to obtain well-colored eggs or flesh.

Many populations, in India as well as in Africa and the West Indies, use roucou to colour their food in the same way as they use turmeric or paprika

The annatto is sometimes attributed a preservative power for food. It has indeed an antibiotic power on certain bacterial strains but this does not seem sufficient to consider it as a safe preservative.

You can be or become ALLERGIC to achiote (often in the form of eczema), it is even one of the rare pigments of natural origin which has an allergenic power in the level of pigments obtained by chemical synthesis.

In case of food allergy we rarely think of annatto. it is quite difficult to completely eliminate annatto from the modern diet because it is used more and more as a food dye.

Artisanal production of annato

When the fruits are ripe, the seeds colored red are removed :

- mix the seeds with a little water and handle them by pressing them to separate the colored envelope from the seeds, the liquid obtained is not homogeneous because some of the pigments are insoluble in water.
After evaporation by gentle heating of the liquid from which the seeds (which are black) have been removed, a strongly colored residue is obtained, the annatto.
It can be incorporated in the kitchen (to color food) or in cosmetic oil to make a sun filter, but it may stain clothes.

- or use oil instead of water and extract the red pigment (bixin), but not the yellow-orange one (norbixin). Same culinary and cosmetic uses as for the pigment extracted with water.

Le roucouyer plante médicinale

- Indian researchers, looking for natural anti-diabetic substances, discovered that the methanolic extract of roucouyer leaves, Bixa orellana, partially blocked the secretion of pancreatic amylase, thus reducing the digestion of carbohydrates and therefore ultimately their digestive absorption.

- Peruvian researchers have confirmed the gastric antiulcer properties of achiote leaves. They tested a hydroalcoholic extract of achiote leaves which induces, by the oral route in animals, a decrease in gastric acidity and an increase in the rate of healing of the gastric ulcer.

- In Colombia achiote tree is one of the plants used by healers to treat infections. In vitro it was possible to confirm the antibiotic power of the ethanolic extract on Eschericia coli, Bacillus cereus, and even Candida albicans. Its power is analogous to that of major antibiotics: gentamycin and nystatin.

- In Brazil, the leaves of the achiote tree are traditionally used to combat the effects of snake venom. The ethanolic extract, in mice, in fact reduces edema and bleeding disorders caused by the venom of Bothrops snake.

- Guyanese Creoles use the sap that beads at the end of the petioles of leaves which have just been cut to clean the eyes glued with purulent secretions: first soak the end of the cut petioles in boiled water with the addition of rum before instilling this vegetable “eye drops”.

- The Wayapi Indians of Guyana apply the slightly heated buds to the skin abscesses.


Infusion - decoction of achiote leaves:

A handful of fresh leaves in 1/2 liter of water, 5 minutes of boiling and 5 minutes of infusion:
1 glass three times a day in case of gastralgia of ulcerative origin, dyspeptia with heartburn, for at least a week and with the possibility of doubling the dose.

This decocotion-infusion can also be used to clean a wound, gargle in case of inflammatory angina, as a vaginal injection in case of leucorrhea, and to soothe skin irritation (eczema, scratching lesions, skin reactions to stinging plants. ).


The Achiote tree seeds are surrounded by an orange-red coloring matter traditionally used by the Amerindians as adornment and magical protection, annato.
The more prosaic Westerners use annato to color food, eggs, cheese or medicine.
Achiote leaves are anti-inflammatory and help to heal the stomach lining
in case of stomach ulcermac