Annatto Seeds are a Natural Source of Tocotrienols with No Tocopherols


Achiote, known by its botanical name, Bixa orellana, is a shrub or small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas.  The Achiote tree is sometimes called the lipstick tree due to the fact that people would use the seeds to make red body paint and lipstick.

The bright red seeds of the Achiote tree is called annatto.  Annatto seeds impart a slight peppery taste with a hint of nutmeg.  They have been used in cooking methods in Latin America and to color cheeses. 

Annatto seeds are a rich source of tocotrienols.  Tocotrienols are members of the vitamin E family.  Vitamin E is actually made up of two families:

  • Tocotrienols
  • Tocopherols

Tocotrienols are made up of four fractions:

  • alpha
  • beta
  • gamma
  • delta

Tocopherols are made up of four fractions:

  • alpha
  • beta
  • gamma
  • delta

The difference between tocotrienols and tocopherols lies in the unsaturated side chain of tocotrienols, having three double bonds in its farnesyl isoprenoid tail.

Supplemental tocotrienols are derived primarily from three sources:

  • Palm oil
  • Rice bran
  • Annatto seeds

Annatto seeds are a superior source of tocotrienols since it is the only natural source that contains only tocotrienols and no tocopherols.  Palm oil and Rice bran have a mixture of tocopherols and tocotrienols.  The Table below illustrates the percentages of tocotrienols and tocopherols of palm oil, rice bran and annatto seeds:

Content of Tocotrienols and Tocopherols of Palm oil, Rice bran and Annatto seeds

Vitamin EPalm oilRice branAnnatto seeds
Delta tocotrienols50%35%90%
Gamma tocotrienols25%10%
Alpha & Beta tocotrienols15%
(Source: American River Nutrition)

A common method to obtain the tocotrienols from annatto seeds is to steep them in a healthy oil, also known as Annatto oil.   Oils that are often used are:

  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Mustard oil
  • Walnut oil

Most recommendations on creating Annatto oil advise that you heat the oil in a frying pan and then add the annatto seeds.  The inherent problem with this approach is that when you heat any oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, it becomes oxidized and therefore rancid.  Consuming this rancid (heated) oil is detrimental to your health.

Instead of heating the oil, simply place the annatto seeds into the oil bottle and let it steep in the oil for as long you use the oil.  It is also advisable to not place the oil bottle in direct sunlight as this may also oxidize the oil.

Recipe for Annatto oil

For every cup of oil, use 6 tablespoons of annatto seeds. 

Heating the oil tends to infuse the annatto seeds into the oil faster, yet you end up with rancid oil. 

By placing the annatto seeds into the oil or oil bottle, the annatto seeds will infuse into the oil over a longer period of time and provide a higher concentration of tocotrienols.

Informational References:

DeltaGOLD™ is supplemental tocotrienols derived exclusively from Annatto developed by American River Nutrition


Annatto Seeds  (Spice Jungle)

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