Best annatto powder substitutes | 10 best spice powders to use

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 25, 2022

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Kwek-kwek is probably the most popular street food in the Philippines. It is a deep-fried quail egg in an orange batter made from annatto seeds.

The dish gets its color from the annatto powder, which can be difficult to find outside of the Philippines.

If you want to make this dish or something similar at home, you need to use this natural food coloring.

Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

But if you can’t get your hands on annatto powder or you’ve suddenly run out, you’re wondering how to replace annatto powder in your recipe.

Best annatto powder substitutes | 10 best spice powders to use

There are several alternatives you can use depending on the flavor you are looking for.

The best annatto powder substitute is paprika powder because it has a similar sweet and earthy flavor and gives the food a deep orange and reddish color.

Let’s take a look at the best substitutes for annatto powder you can use if you can’t find it. Most of these substitutes are readily available in many supermarkets so you don’t have to worry about getting a hold of them.

What can I use as a substitute for annatto powder?

There are several substitutes you can use depending on the flavor you are looking for. Some good substitutes for annatto powder are turmeric, paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Before I start, it’s worth mentioning that the annatto powder has a mildly sweet, nutty, floral, and spicy flavor and bright orange and reddish color. So, look for condiments with similar characteristics when making substitutions.

But let’s look at all the substitutes and I’ll link where you can find them online if available.

Paprika powder

Best annatto powder substitutes paprika powder hungarian style

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Paprika is a good substitute for annatto because it is also a natural food coloring and it has a slightly sweet flavor that goes well with many dishes.

Many people will agree that paprika is the closest match to annatto powder in terms of flavor and color. Paprika gives food the same red tint as annatto.

You can substitute annatto powder with paprika for most recipes because it has a similar earthy taste and sweetness to it.

Paprika is made from dried, ground red peppers and it is used in many dishes to add flavor and color.

The red pepper powder looks quite similar to annatto powder but it has a slightly different flavor compared to achiote seeds.

You can use the same ratio of paprika as you would annatto powder. So, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of annatto powder, use 1 teaspoon of paprika instead.

I would even go as far as to say these two spices have the same flavor when you cook with them – it’s hard to identify which one you’re using.

I recommend Hungarian-style paprika powder if you’re looking for a high-quality spice.

Smoked paprika

Smoked paprika as a good substitute to annatto powder

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Smoked paprika is made from dried, smoked red peppers and it has a deep, rich flavor. It is commonly used in Spanish and Mexican cuisine.

The smoky taste of this powder can enhance the flavor of many dishes. If you are looking for a substitute that will add more flavor to your food, then smoked paprika is a good choice.

Smoked paprika is a bit milder than regular paprika but it still has that characteristic sweetness to it. Your dish will take on a brownish hue.

Nutmeg powder

Ground nutmeg as good substitute to annatto powder for cooking

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Nutmeg is a good substitute if you are looking for something with a little sweetness. It will give the dish a nice color but it’s more of a brown color than the redder annatto powder.

Ground nutmeg doesn’t quite have the vibrant color of the annatto but it’s still very similar.

The crimson red arils of the Myristica fragrans evergreen tree are the source of this condiment.

Ground nutmeg’s flavor is best described as piney, nutty, resinous, and slightly spicy with a hint of sweetness. Thus, nutmeg looks a bit like annatto but the flavor isn’t the same.

You can use the same amount of nutmeg as you would annatto powder.

Turmeric powder

Ground turmeric powder as a substitute to annatto powder

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Turmeric powder is a great substitute because it is also a natural food coloring. It will give the dish a yellow color so it’s not as orange and red as annatto powder.

Even the taste is similar except turmeric has a richer earthy taste and it’s not sweet. The flavor of turmeric can be described as earthy, bitter, and slightly astringent with hints of ginger and pepper.

Turmeric is made from the Curcuma Longa root and it’s commonly used in Indian cuisine.

When it comes to substituting it for annatto, use the same amount of turmeric as you would annatto powder.

However, don’t expect the same bold reddish hue instead get ready to see yellow-tinged food.

Cayenne pepper powder

Cayenne red pepper powder as a good substitute to annatto powder

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If you don’t mind spiciness and like your food hot, you can substitute annatto with cayenne pepper.

Thus, cayenne pepper powder is a good substitute if you are looking for something with a little heat and want to make your food more flavorful.

Cayenne pepper powder is made from dried and ground chili peppers and is similar to chili pepper flakes or powder.

It will give the dish a red color like annatto powder and is similar to paprika and smoked paprika powder.

When it comes to ratio, use the same amount of cayenne pepper powder as you would annatto if you like spicy foods.

But, if you want color, not spice, use half the amount of cayenne pepper powder you would annatto.

Beetroot powder

Beet root powder as a good substitute for annatto powder

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Beet powder is made from dried and ground beetroots and it will give your food a reddish color. It is used as a natural food coloring just like annatto.

Beet powder is a good substitute if you are looking for something with a little sweetness and want to make your food more colorful.

The flavor of beet powder is best described as sweet, earthy, and slightly nutty.

You can use the same amount of beet powder as you would annatto powder.

Many people like to use beetroot powder for baking because it gives baked goods a beautiful reddish color. Thus, you can use it when making the batter for Kwek-Kwek and other Filipino dishes.

Saffron powder

Saffron is another great substitute for annatto powder

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Saffron is another great substitute because it is also a natural food coloring. It will give the dish a yellow color similar to annatto powder.

However, this spice is quite expensive so it’s not the best option if you are looking for an affordable substitute.

Saffron powder is made from dried and ground saffron threads.

The flavor of saffron is best described as floral, aromatic, and slightly bitter so it lacks the sweetness of the annatto powder.

When it comes to substituting it for annatto powder, you don’t need to use as much saffron as you would annatto. A little goes a long way with this spice because it is very potent.

Thus, start with a quarter of a teaspoon and increase the amount to your liking.

Cumin powder

Ground cumin powder as a good substitute for annatto powder

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Cumin is a good substitute if you are looking for something with a smoky flavor. It will give the dish a brown color so not quite as vibrant as annatto powder but it will do.

Ground cumin powder is made from the seeds of the Cuminum Cyminum plant. The small, oblong seeds have a ridged surface and are a reddish-brown color.

Cumin powder has a warm, earthy flavor with hints of lemon and pepper. It is commonly used in Indian cuisine.

The flavor of cumin is quite strong so you don’t need to use as much of it as you would annatto powder. Don’t use the same ratio, use half as much cumin as you would annatto powder.

Hibiscus powder

Ground dried hibiscus flower powder as a substitute for annatto powder

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Hibiscus powder is a good substitute if you are looking for something with a floral flavor.

It will give the dish a pink color like annatto powder. It’s more of a vibrant pink than a dark red.

Although the color is a lighter red, it’s still a good substitute for annatto powder because it has a similar mild sweet taste that’s not too overpowering in your dishes.

Hibiscus powder is made from the Hibiscus fruit and not the flowers. The ground hibiscus fruit is dried and sold in powder form.
The hibiscus powder has a tart, cranberry-like flavor with earthy undertones.

This plant grows in tropical climates and it’s a bit hard to find the powder form in stores.

This powder is a healthy substitute because it contains a lot of vitamin c and antioxidants.

Carrot powder

Carrot powder as a good substitute for annatto powder

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Carrot powder is another suitable substitute because it is a natural food coloring.

It will give the dish an orange color similar to annatto powder but it’s more of a true orange instead of reddish.
Carrot powder tastes slightly sweet and earthy.
However, the flavor isn’t too much like annatto and it’s best used if you’re just looking for a natural food coloring for dishes like kwek-kwek.

It’s made from carrots that are dried and ground into powder.

This is a healthy alternative because it’s high in vitamins and antioxidants.

How to replace annatto powder in your recipe

Now that you know what the best substitutes for annatto powder are, let’s take a look at how to replace it in your recipe.

The key is to use the same amount of the substitute as you would of the annatto powder.

For example, if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of annatto powder, you would use 1 teaspoon of the substitute.

Use paprika as a substitute for annatto powder

Paprika is probably the best substitute for annatto powder because it has a similar flavor and color.

To replace annatto powder with paprika, use the same amount of paprika as you would of annatto powder.

The same goes for the other substitute spices. However, some give more color than others. If you want a deeper color, use a little more of the spice.

Be careful with the taste though nutmeg, use the. Too much of any of these spices can make the dish taste unpleasant.

What is annatto powder?

Annatto is used in Filipino cuisine as a food coloring. It is a fine powder that is made from the achiote tree and gives the food a yellow-orange color.
Achiote trees only grow in warm, tropical climates and they’re quite unique-looking with their red fruits and seeds.

The tree is also known as the lipstick tree because the red pigment from the seeds is used in cosmetics.

The powder is sometimes called atsuete powder or achiote powder depending on local variations.

In fact, about 70% of natural food coloring used for cooking is derived from this particular tree.
It has a slightly sweet and peppery flavor which is why it is often used as a seasoning in dishes like arroz caldo (rice porridge) and pancit (stir-fried noodles).
Some people prefer to use annatto paste when cooking because it is easier to control the amount of color that it adds to the dish.

How is annatto powder made?

Annatto powder is made from the seeds of the achiote tree. The seeds are ground into a fine powder and then used to color food.

What does annatto powder taste like?

Annatto powder has a slightly sweet and peppery flavor as well as a floral and nutty aroma.

Since annatto is a real spice, its flavor is quite noticeable when added to a dish.

What is annatto powder used for?

Annatto powder is a common ingredient and food coloring agent in Filipino and Asian cuisine. It’s used to add flavor and aroma to dishes because it has a slightly sweet and peppery taste.

Filipinos make annatto oil which is a combination of this orange powder with olive, vegetable, canola, and corn oil to make a seasoning base for food. It gives the dishes a nice color and a slightly sweet and peppery aroma.

Annatto powder is also used in South and Central America for cooking, cosmetic, and medicinal purposes.

FAQs

Does annatto powder have health benefits?

Annatto powder does have some health benefits.

It is a good source of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. Annatto powder can also help to lower cholesterol and improve heart health.

In fact, many people wonder if annatto powder is healthy compared to other spices. Well, the answer is that it really depends on how much you use.

A little annatto powder can certainly add flavor and color to your dish without any negative effects but if you use too much, it can actually be harmful.

So, as with anything else, use it in moderation.

Is annatto powder the same as achiote powder?

Yes, annatto powder and achiote powder are the same thing. They are both made from the seeds of the achiote tree and have a similar flavor and color.

Also, they both color foods and are used identically.

The only difference is in the name. Annatto powder is more commonly used in Filipino cuisine while achiote powder is more common in South and Central America.

What is another name for annatto powder?

Annatto powder is also known as atsuete powder or achiote powder. These all refer to the same thing.

How to store annatto powder?

Annatto powder should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. It will last for up to 6 months.

What are the side effects of annatto powder?

Annatto powder is generally safe to consume but there are a few potential side effects. These include allergic reactions, stomach upset, and headaches.

If you experience any of these side effects, stop using annatto powder and see a doctor.

Can you use annatto oil instead of annatto powder?

Yes, you can use annatto oil instead of annatto powder.

Annatto oil is a combination of this orange powder with olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, and avocado oil or corn oil to make a seasoning base for food.

It gives the dishes a nice color and a slightly sweet and peppery aroma.

You might not use the same quantity of oil as powder – for some dishes, you might need to use more (i.e big pots of stew) whereas you might need to use less in some rice dishes.

The seeds can also be used to make annatto oil:

Can I use annatto paste instead of powder?

Yes, you can use annatto paste instead of powder. Annatto paste is a thick, orange paste that is made from the seeds of the achiote tree.

You can use about the same quantity of paste as you would powder.

Takeaway

As you can see, there are many substitutes that you can use depending on the flavor you are looking for.

If you want something with a sweet yet earthy flavor, then paprika and turmeric substitutes.

If you want something with a little heat, then cayenne pepper is a good substitute.

And if you want something with a smoky flavor, then cumin is a good substitute.

Experiment and see what you like best!

Next, find out how to make Lugaw yellow (the secret to the perfect Lugaw)

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.