The 7 Best Substitutes For Annatto Seeds

What can I use instead of annatto seeds? Saffron is the best alternative for annatto seeds, providing a similarly sweet, peppery flavor and deep orange hue. You can also use safflower, ground paprika, turmeric, or cumin to mimic the vibrant orange hue of annatto seeds. Hibiscus and beet powder are sweeter, more creative replacements.

Annatto seeds boat and earthy, nutty flavor with a fiery orange-red or bright yellow hue. The seeds are ground into a fine achiote paste to add a mild taste and vibrant color to foods. Annatto seeds are available in most Latin American markets. However, try the following alternatives if you can’t find Annatto spice.

The Best Annatto Seed Alternatives


Annatto is often referred to as “poor man’s saffron.” Both spices provide similar sweet, peppery flavors and deep orange flavors. Saffron is harvested from the stamens of Crocus sativus flowers.

If you can afford saffron, substitute this luxurious spice for annatto seeds when preparing recipes like rice dishes, stews, and curries.

Saffron lends a more assertive flavor to annatto that can be overpowering in some recipes. So, use less than ½ teaspoon of saffron to substitute for 1 tablespoon annatto seeds.


Like annatto, safflower is primarily used as a mild seasoning and coloring agent in foods. The mild safflower flavor makes it a compatible substitute for annatto seeds to boost the color of your dishes.

Safflower enhances the color of your cooking without clashing with the flavor of the other spices. You can use safflower to add a brilliant yellow hue to dishes like rice, stew, soup, or meat rubs.

Use safflower and annatto seeds interchangeably in recipes, using the same ratios. When using either spice, add less than ½ teaspoon to color the dish or follow the recommended recipe.

Ground Paprika

Paprika is another close substitute to annatto seeds, lending a spicy-sweet, peppery flavor and fiery orange-red tone to dishes.

Paprika’s color and spiciness vary depending on the chili variety you choose.

You can substitute annatto seeds for ground paprika in sauces, marinades, soups, and stews for a sweet, peppery taste and orange-red hue. Consider adding ground cumin for even closer results.

You can replace annatto seeds with mild paprika using a 1:1 ratio. However, tailor the recipe to half the amount of hot paprika unless you don’t mind an overly spicy dish.

Turmeric Powder

Turmeric is a suitable replacement for annatto seeds. However, it has a brighter yellow tone and may add an earthy and slightly sour taste to your dish. Turmeric powder is readily available at grocery stores.

You can substitute annatto seeds for turmeric powder in rice, soups, stews, curries, and stir-fries. Alternatively, grate turmeric root into your recipes if you don’t have access to the powdered version.

Replace annatto seeds with turmeric powder using a 1:1 ratio when preparing rice.

However, up the quantity to two teaspoons for every teaspoon annatto seeds when making other recipes. Consider adding a pinch of paprika for a sweet, peppery flavor.

Hibiscus Powder

Hibiscus powder is a bright Persian pink powder made from dried hibiscus flower sepals. The powder has a tart, floral flavor with cranberry notes.

Hibiscus powder is subtle enough to help mimic the color of annatto seeds without compromising the flavors of your dish too much.

The subtle tangy, fruity flavors pair well with various vinegar and oils. Consider using hibiscus powder to season salads.

Use equal amounts of hibiscus powder when replacing annatto seeds in your recipe.

Beet Powder

Beets might not initially come to mind when finding a suitable annatto seed substitute. However, its vibrant hue is sure to convince you otherwise.

Beet powder lends a sweet, earthy taste and a splash of pink to recipes. Beet powder mixes beautifully into salad dressings, sauces, and milder curries.

You can use equal amounts of beet powder when replacing annatto seeds in sweeter, more playful dishes that allow room for flavor adjustments.


Like annatto, cumin is a popular spice in Latin American cuisine. Cumin is available as whole seeds or as a ground powder. It lends a similar peppery, earthy flavor to annatto seeds, but the color is more yellow than annatto seeds.

While whole cumin seeds first need to be lightly toasted to release the full flavors, ground cumin can be used without preparation to substitute for annatto seeds. Consider using cumin in curries, marinades, or heart dishes.

Annatto seeds are more subtle than cumin seeds. So, use ½ less cumin than the recipe recommends when substituting annatto seeds.