Achiote/ Lipstick tree/ Bixa Orellana

The Bixa orellana fruits have been found in old civilizations in Peru – such as the ancient cities of Caral and Casma – dating as far back as 5000 years ago. It is believed to come from Brazil but was carried throughout Central and South America by the Indians, who used the coloring as body paint, and by women, who used it as lipstick. The dye contains Vitamin C. The names derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, Achiotl. It is known as Aploppas, and its original name Urucu. Many Latin American cuisines traditionally use Achiote in recipes of Spanish origin that originally call for Saffron; for example, in Arroz con Pollo, to give the rice a yellow color. Achiote is a small tree with a round head, generally grown as an ornamental because of its lovely flowers of various colors. The seeds of the flower have a reddish powder which is used as a vegetable tint for soaps, rice, margarine, cheese and many other products.

The scientific species name orellana is derived from the name of Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish explorer of the century. Together with Francisco Pizarro, Orellana had been involved in the destruction of the Inca Empire; in 1540, he participated in another expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro. Following false rumours about gold and cinnamon trees, about 2000 Spaniards entered the Peruvian and Brazilian jungles, where most of them perished. Orellana abandoned the party and made his way eastward, where he (more or less by chance) discovered the Amazon River and earned scientific fame quite undeservedly. Other names of this plant all stem from Indio tongues in Central and South America: urucul from Tupi-Guarani in the Amazon region, (thence French rocou), annatto from the Cariband achiote from Náhuatl in México. The scientific genus name, Bixa, comes from another Carib plant name usually transcribed as bija or biché.

In South México, meat is often marinated with a spice mixture called “recado” that derives its vibrantly red-yellow color from liberal addition of Achiote. The seeds may be used ground (often after soaking in hot water to soften them) or in form of Achiote oil. Recado‑mari­nated meats are wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a hot stone pit. Baking in a hot oven, pan-frying or grilling is also possible. The technique can be applied to poultry and fish, but is most popular for pork, especially suckling pig. Food prepared this way is generally referred to as Pibil. However, today’s unique dishes of the Yucatan are a combination of ancient Mayan cooking techniques, such as charring and grinding chiles to release their flavors, and the spices that were introduced to the Mayans by the Spanish in the 1500s.

So here’s a Pibil fish recipe for you to enjoy. The fish is cooked in a combination of smoke and steam which makes the resultant dish succulent and flavorsome. Here’s what you’ll need:

Tikin Xic Grilled Fish

2 whole red snappers, scaled and split lengthwise
6 bay leaves
2 medium red onions, Julianne cut
4 tomatoes, sliced
2/4 Recado Colorado (Achiote seed seasoning)
2 tbs. Vegetable oil
1 cup bitter (seville) orange juice.
2 green bell pepper, sliced
4 fresh or dried epazote leaves
1 smoke banana leave (cut in two wrapping size squares)


In a mixing bowl, dissolve Recado Colorado in vegetable oil, then stir in orange juice. Place each fish in large glass or ceramic dish and rub the flesh generously with seasoning mixture. Scatter the bay leaves over the fish and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Place each marinated fish in its own banana leaf square; top each fillet with a slice of tomato, green bell pepper, onion and an epazote leaf; then wrap and tied with a thin banana fiber (from center of leaf).  Heat your grill well then place each wrapped fillet carefully to avoid direct fire; best if cooked with a lid in light medium heat for about 5 minutes. Garnish with red cebollas, bay leaves and lime wedges, and serve immediately.

Tikin Xic Recado

1 white onion
2 small garlic heads, unpeeled and roasted
3 tablespoon of Achiote seed
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
8 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
½ tbs. cumin seed
1 ½ tbs. dried oregano


Peel roasted onion and garlic. Quarter the onion. Place onion and garlic cloves in food processor or blender, and puree. Using electric spice mill or mortar and pestle, grind Achiote seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, cumin, and oregano to a powder.

Add spice mixture to the onion and garlic, and blend to form a paste. Store the recado in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should be good for several weeks.

Note: *The Mayan word “Pibilmeans buried
*Tikin Xic, pronounced “teekeen sheek” in Yucatan Mayan and meaning “dry fish”, is a fish dish prepared in the Meso -American style.

About zoom50

“It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease”
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