Bixa orellana, or achiote, is a shrubby plant of the Bixaceae family and is native to South America although nowadays its seeds can be found and purchased almost everywhere. From its seeds, in fact, a red orange dye is obtained, called annatto, widely used in cosmetics, such as lipsticks, or in food. The dye appears on the label with the initials E160b. But ground seeds are also an interesting, and healthy, culinary ingredient, especially when mixed with other spices. So let's try to understand what science says about the properties of bixa orellana.
Bixa orellana, properties
As mentioned, a dye is obtained from the bixa orellana, called annatto, widely used all over the world. Indeed, it is estimated that 70% of all the natural dyes are derived from annatto. The fortune of bixa orellana is due to the fact that it is all natural, safe, non-toxic and able to preserve the properties of the foods to which it is added (Vilar et al, ScientificWorldJournal, 2014). But the properties of bixa certainly don't stop there. In fact, the seed powder of this plant, when added to foods or as a culinary ingredient, shows antioxidant, antitumor, hypoglycemic, cardiotonic, hypotensive, expectorant, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties (Vilar et al, ScientificWorldJournal, 2014 - Sugahara et al, J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, 2015). But also the leaves of bixa orellana in the form of a decoction have interesting health properties, especially useful in case of water retention, urinary tract infections, bronchitis and sore throat, if taken internally, and eye inflammation, wounds and problems of the skin in the form of compresses. However, nowadays, it is easier to find supplements prepared with bixa orellana leaves and not whole leaves. These supplements are especially useful for the health of the urinary tract thanks to their diuretic and antimicrobial action. The properties of seeds and leaves are due to the active ingredients of the bixa orellana, such as bixin, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin of the seeds, which are all antioxidants of the carotenoid class, and tocopherol, terpenes and flavonoids contained both in the seeds and in leaves (Vilar et al, ScientificWorldJournal, 2014 - Raddatz Mota et al, J Food Sci Technol, 2017).
Bixa orellana, uses in cooking
In ethnic food stores and online you can find the seeds of bixa orellana to use to prepare the famous achiote paste, one of the ingredients of Mexican cuisine. In this case the seeds should be ground and mixed with coriander, black pepper, cumin and cloves. Blend everything together with a clove of garlic and orange and lemon juice. This pasta, which must be kept in the refrigerator, is used to prepare marinades. You can rub a little of this paste on meat or fish and leave it to marinate for a few hours.
Then go on with cooking.
Alternatively, you can also buy ready-made achiote paste.
Bixa Orellana, properties for external use
The powder obtained from the seeds of bixa orellana is often added to cosmetic preparations, such as lipsticks but also Anti Age and anti stretch mark creams. In fact, this powder is antimicrobial and, when applied topically, helps the healing of wounds (Vilar et al, ScientificWorldJournal, 2014). Not only that, thanks to the antioxidants present, this powder helps protect the skin from aging, from damage caused by sun rays and cell degeneration (Rojo de la Vega et al, Front Pharmacol, 2018 - de Oliveira Junior et al, Food Chem Toxicol , 2019).
Bixa orellana, how to use it as a cosmetic
In specialized stores and online you can find annatto powder to be used dissolved in oil as an ingredient in DIY cosmetic preparations or for massage oil. In this case, mix 100 ml of a vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil, and 10 grams of powder in a jar. Close the jar and let it rest in a dark place for about a week, shaking it occasionally. After this time, filter the oil and use it for anti-aging massages, to preserve the tone and elasticity of the skin.
Bixa orellana, warnings
Generally the bixa orellana is considered safe, however, in predisposed people, allergic reactions with itching, swelling and stomach pain have been observed. Pay attention during pregnancy and, in this period, avoid taking bixa orellana in large quantities in addition to what is present in foods as a dye, in fact, in the literature the use of bixa as an abortion inducing agent is reported (Rivera Madrid et al, Front Plant Sci, 2016).