Use Annatto Seeds To Spice Up Your Next Pork Dish

Pork's gentle and fairly neutral flavor makes it extraordinarily adaptable, allowing you to pair it with almost anything your heart desires. Nothing's off the table: Sweetness and acidity both work, but a bit of heat, in particular, is always nice. However, forget the usual chili and pepper staples, and go for subtler annatto seeds instead. Their uniquely complex flavors might just be your next favorite for spicing up some good old pork.

Annatto seeds come from the achiote tree, a native to South and Central America. They carry a vibrantly bright orange-red hue, which is why they're commonly used as a food coloring, but they also have a warm and cozy flavor profile to match their tone. When added to your pork dishes, annatto lights a distinctly sweet and peppery, almost nutmeg-like spark that makes a striking first impression. The restrained spiciness and musky aroma add an exquisite depth to the overall savory, slightly sweet pork taste. This unusual element transforms the familiar meat into an intriguing main course that shines bright both at fancy feasts and family dinners alike.

A spice to liven up all your pork dishes

Before the actual cooking process, you'll need to prepare the annatto seeds by thoroughly grinding them into fine pieces with a mortar, spice mill, or blender. If you're looking for an easier shortcut, consider buying the pre-ground variety or paste at Latin American specialty grocers. Then, simply use it as you would any other spices.

In this form, annatto seed is most commonly used as a spice rub, and will coat your pork with a red-hued tasty layer of flavor. Another way to use annatto is to mix the ground seeds with citrus juice, vinegar, herbs, aromatics, and other condiments to make a delectable marinade. If you prefer something thick and luscious to coat the meat, make a sauce or puree by blending the seeds with your preferred seasonings. All the usual pantry staples like garlic powder, onion powder, chile powder, allspice, and black pepper, make great company for annatto seeds.

You may be wondering which pork dishes work best with annatto seeds. One traditional dish that centers around this specific spice is cochinita pibil (also known as Yucat√°n barbecued pork). It involves marinading the pork with a mixture made from fragrant herbs and robust spices, then wrapping it in banana leaves with vegetables into tight parcels and grilling for several hours, before pulling the tender meat apart. More familiar dishes, like roasted pork tenderloin, or baked pork chops, would greatly benefit from a dry rub containing annatto seeds as well. Feel free to get experimental with your favorite pork meal.