What is Urucum?

June 21, 2024

What is Urucum?

Urucum, also known as annatto, is a natural dye and spice that comes from the seeds of the achiote tree. It is commonly used in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines to add color and flavor to dishes. Urucum has a vibrant red-orange color and a slightly peppery taste, making it a popular ingredient in dishes such as rice, stews, and marinades.

History of Urucum

The use of urucum dates back to ancient civilizations in Central and South America, where it was used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The indigenous peoples of the region would use urucum to dye textiles, paint their bodies, and as a natural sunscreen. Today, urucum is still widely used in traditional dishes and as a natural food coloring.

Health Benefits of Urucum

Urucum is not only used for its color and flavor, but it also has several health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants, which can help protect the body from free radicals and reduce inflammation. Urucum is also a good source of vitamin E, which is important for skin health and immune function.

Uses of Urucum in Cooking

Urucum is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. It is commonly used to color rice, soups, and stews, giving them a rich red-orange hue. Urucum can also be used as a marinade for meats and vegetables, adding a subtle peppery flavor. In some cultures, urucum is used to make achiote paste, which is a popular seasoning for meats and fish.

Urucum in Traditional Medicine

In addition to its culinary uses, urucum has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and is often used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Urucum is also used as a natural sunscreen, as it can help protect the skin from UV rays.

Urucum as a Natural Dye

Urucum is commonly used as a natural dye for textiles and cosmetics. The vibrant red-orange color of urucum comes from a compound called bixin, which is extracted from the seeds of the achiote tree. This natural dye is used to color fabrics, yarns, and even lipstick, providing a safe and eco-friendly alternative to synthetic dyes.

Urucum in Beauty Products

Due to its vibrant color and antioxidant properties, urucum is also used in beauty products such as lotions, creams, and hair dyes. The vitamin E in urucum helps to nourish the skin and hair, while the natural color adds a warm glow to cosmetics. Urucum is a popular ingredient in natural and organic beauty products.

Urucum in Traditional Ceremonies

Urucum has a long history of use in traditional ceremonies and rituals in Central and South America. The vibrant red-orange color of urucum is often associated with vitality, energy, and protection. In some cultures, urucum is used to paint the body before ceremonies or to create decorative patterns on clothing.

Urucum in Modern Cuisine

In recent years, urucum has gained popularity in modern cuisine as chefs and home cooks seek out natural and exotic ingredients. Urucum is often used in fusion dishes that combine Latin American flavors with international cuisines. Its vibrant color and unique flavor make it a versatile ingredient in both savory and sweet dishes.

Where to Buy Urucum

Urucum can be found in specialty stores, Latin American markets, and online retailers that sell spices and exotic ingredients. It is typically sold in the form of whole seeds, ground powder, or achiote paste. When purchasing urucum, look for high-quality products that are free from additives and preservatives.

How to Store Urucum

To preserve the color and flavor of urucum, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place away from heat and moisture. Whole urucum seeds can be stored for up to a year, while ground urucum powder should be used within six months for the best flavor. Avoid storing urucum near strong-smelling spices, as it can absorb odors.


Urucum is a versatile and flavorful ingredient that has been used for centuries in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. Whether you are looking to add color to your dishes, boost your health with antioxidants, or explore exotic flavors, urucum is a must-have ingredient in your pantry. Try incorporating urucum into your cooking and beauty routines to experience the vibrant color and unique taste of this natural spice.

Tatiana Cesso

As a journalist, I've made it my mission to explore and share stories that inspire, inform, and entertain. You may have stumbled upon my work in esteemed publications such as InStyle, Marie Claire, Bazaar, L’Officiel, and Vogue, among others. Having called the U.S. home since 2010, I've lived in Chicago, LA, and currently, Miami. But my heart always beats to the rhythm of Brazil. It's where I was born and raised, and my love for its culture, people, and energy knows no bounds. To share this passion, I've founded Brazilcore, a platform aimed at bridging the gap between Brazil and English speakers worldwide.