Dining

Spice It Up

The brightly hued annatto seed adds pop to local dishes.

November 2011

What: Study menus around town and you’re likely to notice dishes featuring “annatto” or “achiote.” The spice is made from ground, brick-red annatto seeds, the pods of which grow on a shrub in the Caribbean and Central America. Annatto imparts a peppery, somewhat nutmegy flavor to dishes. It is also often used for color—for years its primary use in this country was to color butter and cheese.

Where to buy it: Savory Spice (multiple locations, savoryspiceshop.com) carries achiote paste and annatto (whole and ground seeds). You can also find it at Latin markets.

Where to taste it:

  • At Satchel’s on 6th (1710 E. Sixth Ave., 303-399-2560, satchelson6th.com), chef Kurt Boucher uses the colorful seeds (combined with extra-virgin olive oil) to punch up a dish of shrimp with avocado crema and pickled cucumber.
  • Mary Nguyen of Parallel Seventeen (1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988, parallelseventeen.com) has been making annatto oil for years. Taste her handiwork in the pear-annatto sauce that accompanies the crispy duck rillette imperial rolls.
  • Chef Lon Symensma of ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro (1555 Blake St., 303-353-5223, cholon.com) called on annatto seed when creating kung pao chicken for the menu. Dried Thai chiles and chile-infused oil bring heat to the dish, while annatto provides color.
  • Dig into the cochinita pibil, a popular dish at El Diablo (101 Broadway, 303-954-0324, eldiablorestaurant.com). Chef Sean Yontz braises the pork for this traditional Oaxacan dish with ingredients that include achiote.
  • Brendon Doyle, the chef of City, O’ City (206 E. 13th Ave., 303-831-6443, cityocitydenver.com) uses annatto oil in a handful of dishes, but most notably the restaurant’s vegan macaroni and cheese.
  • At Vesta Dipping Grill (1822 Blake St., 303-296-1970, vestagrill.com) order the achiote shrimp appetizer with avocado, queso fresco, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Chef Matt Selby marinates the shrimp in a dry achiote spice blend before tossing them on the grill. Also try the mixed tomato salad—there’s achiote in the charred tomato vinaigrette.