What is annatto?
(Bixa orellana L.)
Annatto (“urucum” in Portuguese), also known as “urucu”, means “red” in the tupi-guarani language (uru'ku), in reference to the color of its fruit and seed. It is also known in other cultures as “achiote” in Spanish, “rocou” in French, “annatto” in English. It is the fruit of the annatto tree (Bixa orellana L.), a native tree to tropical America, with a height varying from 2 to 9 m. Annatto fruits are in the form of capsules (pods), covered with fleshy spines, whose external color is reddish when they are ripe. The pods open to expose triangular seeds. The natural color is extracted from the red pigment of the seed coating.
Widely used by native peoples, the Annatto is a seed that creates endless possibilities.
Annatto can be added to yogurts, cheeses, cereals, hot dogs, beverages, and even to pharmaceutical products, cosmetics and textiles. Annatto is also a source of Vitamin E.
The origin of annatto
Historically, annatto was used by indigenous peoples in Brazil and Peru as a body paint for various purposes, such as: a form of expression according to each specific event (fighting, hunting, wedding), as a protection against insect bites and also protection from the sunlight.
Annatto Natural Colorants
Vision is the most commonly sense used by people when choosing a food. This sense is used to identify organoleptic properties such as color and appearance, identifying whether people are attracted or repelled towards that food and thus assisting in the purchase decision.
Therefore, colorants are used for a number of functions, such as: to maintain the food color during the steps of processing, storage and transport, to enhance the natural color of the food and to add color to colorless products. In this process, the colorants used can be of natural or synthetic origin, according to the relevant legislation for each product in question.
Recent researches show the toxicity of some artificial colors, which has led responsible bodies from several countries to restrict or even to ban their use. In addition, consumers are increasingly demanding. Consumers are seeking healthier foods and preferring foods with less additives and ingredients (clean label movement), with an appeal for health and well-being. This generates a great movement of industries towards the reformulation of their products, by removing artificial ingredients and adding natural products, including natural colors, thus increasing the consumption of annatto colorants, for example.
The annatto pigments are extracted from the outer coating of the seeds. The main pigment is bixin, an oil soluble, yellow-orange carotenoid that represents more than 80% of the total carotenoids found in annatto.
Other pigments are obtained from bixin, such as norbixin, also oil soluble, and the norbixin salt, which is water soluble. The norbixin salt can be converted to norbixin through acid precipitation and then it becomes insoluble in water.
Therefore, for water-based products, water soluble annatto color (norbixin salt) is the most recommended product, as in the case of hot dogs, smoked fish, seasoned chicken, cheeses, instant beverages, pasta, cereals and dry mixes.
For oil-based products (sauces, mayonnaise, cheeses, snacks, among others), the other annatto pigments are usually used. One of the first colorants to be used in butter and margarine was the oil soluble annatto extract.
Annatto Natural Colors can be found on labels of various foods, identified as INS 160b, and can also be used in cosmetics and paints.
In order to manufacture annatto colorants that meet the high quality standards of the domestic and foreign markets, special attention is needed in the plantation to achieve high levels of pigment in the seeds and proper handling of them until their processing. New Max currently manufactures annatto with a vertical integration strategy, with 400 hectares of the company’s own plantation, which is enough for the production of 1200 tons of seeds per year. This allows us to monitor the process, from planting seedlings to the harvest, drying and processing of seeds, ensuring the quality of the product that will be processed.
After harvesting and processing the seeds, the different types of colorants are manufactured with great care. Good Manufacturing Practices are applied in order to offer high-quality and safe products to the market.
Currently, New Max manufactures bixin powder at a concentration up to 30%, norbixin powder at a concentration up to 40%, oil suspension of bixin and liquid norbixin in various concentrations. In addition to these products, New Max also manufactures natural color blends, such as bixin and curcumin and bixin and beta-carotene.