Aromatic Plants

Annatto And Other Natural Dyes


  • Annatto, a colouring matter of vegetable origin, is derived from the pericarp of seed of Bixa orellana L. Annatto plant is an evergreen shrub / small tree, 2 - 5 m height native no tropical America, is now grown in most of the tropical countries.
  • The fruits are burr-like pod that may contain 10 - 20 seeds. The seeds are coated with a thin pulpy, bright orange resinous coating or mark, the colouring matter.
  • It is mostly grown in Bolivia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru and Durinam. The crop is also produced on lesser scale in Africa, e.g., Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and in the pacific e.g., Phillippines and Hawaii.
  • Annatto is grown in Indian in forests regions viz. Visakhapatnam, Srikakulam, Thiruvananthpuram, Malabar and Coromandal coasts and in certain districts of west Bengal, Maharashtra, Assam, Karnataka, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh.
  • Annatto seeds have a bright prospects of marketing in India and abroad. Within India, the markets in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Mahdya Pradesh are worth mentioning. According to rough estimates, the quantum of seed handled annually in the market of these States comes to about 180 - 250 tonnes.Out of these major quantity is exported.
  • The main commercial producers and suppliers of Annatto seeds to the International Market have been Peru, The Dominican Republic, Brazil, Jamaica, Ecuador and India.

Components of Annato

  • The major components of Annatto is the apo-carotenoid 9-cis-bixin, the methyl ester of the dicarboxylic acid 9'-cis-norbixin (C15H30O4) and is orange in colour.
  • The total pigment content of Annatto seeds varies from 0.73 - 1.5% comprising of various carotenoids. Annatto colour is prepared by leaching the pericarp of the Annatto seeds with an extract prepared from one or more food grade materials like various organic solvents, edible vegetable oils, and fats, and alkaline aquous alkaline solutions.
  • The selection of an extract is done depending upon the intended end use.

Uses of annato

  • Annatto colour is mainly used as a food colour. Its chief application is colouring butter and cheese.
  • It is also used for coloruing the dry mixes, bakery products and the like. CFTRI, Mysore has developed a process for production of Annatto dyes and is released to entrepreneurs on payment.

Other colours obtained from the Natural Colourants :


  • There are two classes of carotenoids, the hydrocarbons or carotenes (B - carotene, lycopene) and the oxygenated or xanthophylls (capanthene from capsicum). Generally, the carotenoid pigments are soluble in oil.


  • There are two types of flavonoids, the anthocyanins and the anthoxanthins. Anthocyanins are water soluble and, being highly reactive are readily oxidised or reduced, the glycoside linkages undergoing hydrolysis.
  • These pigments are responsible for many of the wide range of red, blue and purple hues of ruits and vegetables as well as flowers. The most common forms of anthocyanidin are pelargonidanin, cyanidin, delphinidin, peoniodin, malvidin and petunidin.
  • There are many anthoxanthins (flavones). Members of this class flavonoids are colourless in acid but pale yello in an alkaline medium. Possibly the most common anthoxanthin is quercetin, which has been found to occur with myricetin.


  • There are two types of water soluble betalaines. These are the strong coloured, purple-red betacyanins and the yellow betaxanthins or vulgaxanthins.
  • Their natural food product source is the beetroot and the most studied variety is the red beet.


  • The yellow colouring matter, curcumene, is obtained from the roots of the dried, ground rhizomes of the turmeric plants.
  • The pigment is not soluble in water and is often used in colloidal dispersions.

Colours from Different Flowers

  • Many flowers are heavily pigmented and may be suitable sources of food colours. The possible sources are marigold, poppy and sunflower seed husks. Red and yello carthamin pigments can be extracted and manufactured rom safflower petals.
  • CFTRI, Mysore has also developed a process for manufacture of natural food colours from beetroot, safflower petals, kokum, grapes (blue) for commercial exploitation.