Q. I was reading through “Iron Chef” Morimoto's cookbook and came across an ingredient called achiote paste. What is this and where can I find it?
Achiote paste is made from the ground seeds of the annatto tree, and it's more easily found in American grocery stores by that name. Annatto is sold in both paste and powder forms and also as whole seeds. It's better to buy either the paste or seeds. The powder is usually older and while it may produce an adequate color, it won't have the musty, nutmeg-like flavor associated with the spice.
Annatto is used throughout Latin America to give color and flavor to all kinds of dishes and is used in some cultures to make lipstick and body paints. The seed also finds its way into Indian and Filipino cooking, and is the source of the pigment that gives yellow cheddars their familiar color.
In Charlotte, annatto is available in powder and paste form at Indian markets such as Payal Indian Grocery; 6400 Old Pineville Road. You can buy annatto seeds online from Spice Barn, at www.spicebarn.com.