Aceite de bija, or Achiote oil was our Abuela's secret for very beautiful dishes. Homemade Bija oil is an excellent shortcut to quickly preparing foods and adding that gorgeous color that grandma loved, and now you can learn how to make it at home and keep some at hand.
By- Last reviewed . Published Apr 14, 2021
Why we ❤️ it
Bija is one of my favorite ingredients, and I've used it in several recipes. It's the best way to add color to a dish without altering its taste. Bija is one of our signature spices; part of our local sazón, it's inexpensive, widely available in the Dominican Republic, and a very ancient ingredient in our cuisine.
What is achiote / bija?
Bija is the fruit of the achiote tree --scientific name Bixa orellana-- which originated in South America, and was brought to the island by the indigenous Taino. The seeds of its alien-looking pods are used as coloring; it was used instead of tomato paste in pre-refrigeration times, as it has a very long shelf-life.
Bija dominicana is commonly available as dry seeds or as bija / achiote powder.
Bija / achiote and achiote oil.
How to use it
Achiote can be used as a substitute for tomato paste to give color to our dishes. It is also made during the cooking process, as in this Locrio de longaniza yellow rice with Dominican sausage, but you can use it in our Locrio de pollo (Dominican arroz con pollo) and to give a deep orange color to our Pollo guisado (Dominican chicken) if you do not want to use the traditional method of burning the sugar.
How to store it
Store aceite de bija in a glass jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid. I prefer to keep it refrigerated to make sure it lasts longer. In the fridge, it lasts for months.
About this recipe
To make the oil, the annatto seeds are removed from the pods, then steeped or cooked over very low heat in cooking oil. Other ingredients like herbs, onion, garlic cloves, and oregano can be added to add flavor to it. Once the color is extracted, we then strain it with a fine-mesh strainer.
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Achiote Oil [Recipe + Video] Aceite de Bija
1. Combine ingredients
- Pour the bija seeds into a small saucepan. Add garlic, oregano, and thyme.Pour in the oil.
2. Cook in oil
- Heat on the stove at very low heat for one hour.Once the hour has passed, remove from the heat, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Sieve with a fine sieve to discard the solids.
3. Storing achiote oil
- Pour into a clean bottle with a tight fitting lid, and store at room temperature. This has a long shelf life, but it's best used within the month.
Nutritional information is calculated automatically based on ingredients listed. Please consult your doctor if you need precise nutrition information.
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Bija / achiote in English
Bija is also known as anato, and achiote in Spanish, and annatto in English, is used throughout the Caribbean, where it has come to be known as "the poor man's saffron " (yeah, I know turmeric bears that title too, but it's hardly used around here).
History of bija
Before the first Europeans stepped off the boat in 1492, bija was already being used by the Tainos (bija is a Taino word ). They used it mainly as a stain to paint their bodies a reddish tone for decorative purposes and as a mosquito repellent.
Bija is now one of the most widely used natural food dye ingredients in the food industry and is generally considered very safe . It's a common ingredient in several Latin American countries.
Annato oil is a bright orange oil made by steeping or cooking annatto seeds in cooking or vegetable oil. This oil is used for coloring foods.
It's preferable to make the oil from seeds, but if you have no achiote seeds available, you can make annatto oil by mixing the annatto powder with cooking oil, and letting it steep for several days. The color may not be as intense as with seeds.
Add enough vegetable oil to annatto powder to make into a paste and let it rest for 3 to 4 days. Use as a substitute for tomato paste.