Annatto Seed Powder (Bixa orellana)



Annatto Seed Powder (Bixa orellana) is a waxy, tropical seed that is used as a spice, medicine and a food and textile dye.  It’s also called achiote, roucou and lipstick tree. Annatto is a shrub native to tropical Central and Amazonia South America and is now grown throughout the world. Annatto is soluble in both water and oil, and it is widely used as a colorant for cosmetics and foods, such as Velveeta processed cheese, Cheetos and Goldfish crackers. Hmmm. As a spice, it is commonly used in Central and Latin American cooking, as well as in other regions that were part of the Spanish Empire.

We use annatto seed powder for its vibrant orange shades on cellulose fibers with simple changes in pH. Annatto has two main colorants: bixin and norbixin. Bixin is largely oil-soluble and imparts a more yellow shade. When the pH is raised, the color deepens and becomes much more vivid as norbixin (the orange-red shade) is activated. The dye colorant is a caretonoid and is more fragile than other strong yellow or red dyes, but it definitely has appeal and is an easy dye to use with children.  Please note that our dye is also used in food preparations, but we do not store annatto in a food certified handling facility, so please do not eat it.

Since the dye is already powdered, you can start extracting it without a long pre-soak. Use 50-100% dye on the dry weight of fiber.  Measure and add the annatto powder in a small saucepan with 2-3 inches of water to cover.  Bring to a simmer and hold at temperature for 20 minutes.  Strain the dye liquid into a dye pot and repeat the extraction process until the dyestuffs are not yielding strong color, or you have enough dye liquid for your project.  You can dry the powder and use for bundle dyeing or eco printing.

If you want to achieve bright yellow shades, add about 1/8th teaspoon of soda ash to the dye pot. For deeper orange and reddish orange shades, add about 1/2 teaspoon of soda ash to the dye pot. If needed, add more water to the dye pot so the goods move freely. Then add mordanted cellulose fabrics and begin heating the dye bath, stirring continually.  Bring to 160F and hold for 45 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes. Carefully remove the hot fabric and rinse in room temperature water.  Air dry out of direct sun.  Keep away from direct sun to preserve the color.

Step back and admire your work!

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