Achiote Paste Substitute: 10 Best Options

by Brittney

Can’t get your hands on achiote paste in time for dinner tonight? No worries! We’ve got you covered with these 10 achiote paste substitutes ranging from similar spice blends to convenient pantry staples!

Whether you’re making belizean stew chicken, cochinita pibil or tacos al pastor, we’re sure one of these achiote paste alternatives will work for you!

What is Achiote Paste?

Achiote paste, also called recado rojo, is a popular seasoning in Mexico (especially Yucatan), Central America and the Caribbean. It’s made by grinding annatto seeds (achiote in Spanish) with other ingredients, such as garlic, spices and vinegar. The annatto seeds lend their color to the paste, which turns any dish it touches a shade of deep, vibrant red.

Although achiote paste is often used for its bold color, it also adds a subtle flavor. It has an earthy flavor profile, with hints of smokiness and nutty undertones!

achiote paste box unpackaged to show paste

The Best Achiote Paste Substitutes

Achiote paste is shelf-stable and can last a long time, making it a valuable addition to any pantry. However, if you find yourself without achiote paste and it’s essential for tonight’s dinner, we’ve got just the thing. Whether you’re making a traditional dish or experimenting with new flavors, we’re sure one of these 10 alternatives will work for you!

1. Sazon Goya

Sazon Goya is a seasoning blend sold in small packets and has a flavor profile similar to achiote paste. While there are different blends, most contain garlic, cumin and annatto (achiote). Just make sure to get a packet with achiote, as they do sell one without annatto (sin achiote).

If your recipe calls for dissolving achiote paste in lime juice or vinegar, you can mix your seasoning packet with lime juice or vinegar to form a paste-like consistency.

Because Sazon Goya tends to contain more salt than achiote paste, you may need to add less salt to your dish than noted in the recipe.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1 tablespoon sazon goya.

2. Ground Annatto Seeds

Ground annatto seeds (achiote molido) are a great way to get the vibrant color of achiote! Keep in mind that achiote paste has additional seasoning, so your dish might taste quite bland if only using ground annatto. For more flavor, consider adding additional seasoning, such as garlic, cumin or oregano.

To substitute ground annatto for achiote paste, mix ground annatto seeds with a small amount of oil or water to form a paste. Alternatively, simply sprinkle the ground annatto into your dish.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 2 teaspoons ground annatto seeds.

3. Bijol Seasoning

Bijol seasoning contains ground annatto seeds in addition to cumin and corn flour. Bijol has a slightly earthy flavor, but is much milder than achiote paste so you may need to add additional seasoning.

To substitute bijol seasoning for achiote paste, mix the seasoning with water or oil to form a paste-like consistency. Alternatively, simply sprinkle the seasoning into your dish.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 2 teaspoons bijol seasoning.

4. Smoked Paprika

Now we’re getting into the substitutes that have a different flavor profile, but are possibly more convenient. Smoked paprika, and especially a high-quality sweet smoked paprika, will add flavor and color to your dish.

While it might not be a perfect substitute, smoked paprika can be a good choice if you’re just looking to replicate the color of achiote paste.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika.

5. Ground Turmeric

Turmeric, which is also known for its vibrant hue, is a great substitute in recipes where achiote is used primarily for color. An added bonus? Ground turmeric will add a slightly bitter, earthy flavor to your dish, which is somewhat similar to annatto.

And to create a vibrant red-orange color more reminiscent of achiote paste, try using a blend of turmeric and paprika!

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1-2 teaspoons ground turmeric.

6. Saffron

Although it can be quite expensive, saffron is a great option if you’re just looking to add color to your dish. Saffron has a very unique taste. It’s slightly floral with earthy and almost bitter notes. If using saffron as a replacement, make sure these flavors will blend well with your recipe.

To use saffron as a substitute for achiote paste, soak a few strands of saffron in a small amount of warm water or broth and then add the resulting liquid to your dish.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 10 strands of saffron (soaked in a small amount of liquid).

7. Chile Powders

Chile powders can be an excellent substitute for achiote, but will also add a spicy element to your dish. We especially like ancho chile powder as a substitute, as it is only mildly spicy and has a distinct earthy flavor.

Chipotle powder and guajillo chile powder can also be used as substitutes, but are spicier and have a more complex flavor profile.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1 teaspoon chile powder.

8. Harissa

Harissa is a chile paste that originated in Tunisia and is popular across North Africa. It’s made from dried red peppers, oil and spices such as garlic, coriander, caraway and cumin. Harissa can range from mild to hot, so make sure to adjust to taste!

Harissa will take your recipe in a different direction, so only use this if you’re up for a culinary adventure!

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1/2 tablespoon harissa.

9. Tomato Paste

Another convenient substitute for achiote paste is tomato paste. It won’t give you the bright red color of achiote, but it will add a bit of umami and depth of flavor to your dish.

Tomato paste can be a suitable substitute for achiote in stews and marinades, but I would recommend adding additional seasonings (such as cumin, garlic and oregano) to ensure your dish isn’t lacking in flavor.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1 tablespoon tomato paste.

10. Homemade Achiote Paste

Of course it isn’t the most convenient substitute, but on the off chance you’ve got a jar of annatto seeds and extra time on your hands, you can always make your own achiote paste. Once you’ve rounded up your ingredients, it’s quick to prepare and the flavor boost from using fresh ingredients is incredible!

Here’s our favorite recipe for achiote paste.

1 tablespoon achiote paste = 1 tablespoon homemade achiote paste.

Achiote Paste: FAQs

What is achiote paste?

Achiote is the spanish word for annatto and achiote paste is made from ground annatto seeds and other seasonings. It can be used as part of a sauce or as a marinade for meat.

What does achiote taste like?

Achiote has a peppery, earthy and slightly bitter flavor. Achiote paste is often mixed with acid, such as vinegar or lime juice, which helps to release and enhance its flavor.

What are some common dishes that use achiote paste?

Cochinita pibil, stew chicken, tacos al pastor, and salbutes use achiote paste

Achiote paste substitutes

Looking for more substitution ideas and inspiration? Check out these posts:

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