Home » Ingredient Substitutes » Achiote Paste Substitute (Your Top 12 Options)

Achiote Paste Substitute (Your Top 12 Options)

This article will uncover a range of delightful Achiote paste substitutes that will infuse your dishes with a burst of rich color and captivating taste.

If you love Latin American cuisine, you’re likely familiar with achiote paste. This traditional seasoning adds an irresistible depth to countless dishes. Here are the top options to help you find the perfect substitute.

Black bowl filled with achiote with annato seeds on the background.

What Is Achiote Paste?

Achiote paste, or annatto paste, is a seasoning and coloring agent.

The paste is popular in Central American, Mexican, and Caribbean cuisine. It uses annatto seeds, which come from the achiote tree.

Did you know?

Achiote paste has a slightly peppery, earthy, and somewhat bitter taste.

How its made

To make the thick, reddish-brown paste, grind the annatto seeds first. Then, you mix it with different spices, herbs, and citrus juice.

How it tastes

Achiote paste boasts a unique flavor that combines sweet, earthy, and peppery notes. People commonly use it in meat dishes because it adds color and flavor.

How it used

Achiote paste is often used as a seasoning, marinade, or coloring agent in recipes like stews, meats, rice, and sauces.

It is a key ingredient in Latin American dishes like Cochinita Pibil and tamales. Achiote paste is also common in rice dishes like Pilaf and Arroz Amarillo con Achiote.

Where to find it

You might be able to find achiote paste in grocery stores with an extensive spice aisle. If not, you may look for it in the Latin section. You may have better luck finding it in Latin and Mexican specialty stores. Lastly, try looking for them in online retail stores.

The Best Substitutes For Achiote Paste

Achiote paste can be challenging to come by, but there are many alternatives available. Depending on the needs of your dish, you can find an option that perfectly fits.

1. Sambal Oelek

Jar labelled Sambal Oelek on the grocery store shelf.

Sambal Oelek is a popular Indonesian chili paste. It has ground red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt.

This paste can be quite spicy, too. However, it is saltier than other similar chili pastes.

Sambal Oelek has a different flavor than achiote paste due to the addition of vinegar. Still, it can add a similar level of heat and vibrant color to your dishes.


Because this option is spicy, use only half the amount as the achiote paste is called for in your recipes. In short, use a 1:2 ratio of Sambal Oelek to achiote paste.

2. Guajillo Chili Powder

One great way to replace this paste is to use another Latin American and Mexican ingredient.

As the name implies, Guiajillio chili powder uses dried Guajillo chilies. As a result, it provides a mild level of heat. It also has a rich and smoky flavor, similar to achiote paste.

This powder is an ideal substitute, especially when you have chicken or fish in your dish.


As a starting point, you can use 1 to 2 teaspoons of guajillo chili powder to replace 1 tablespoon of achiote paste. Add more if necessary.

3. Harissa

Bowl with harissa paste on top of linen napkin.

Harissa is a North African chili paste. It blends hot chili peppers, garlic, spices, and olive oil. There are many variations of harissa, depending on the country where it is from. Some use whole chilies instead of ground ones.

Harissa has an earthy flavor like achiote but is much spicier. That said, it is not an exact flavor match. Still, it can be a great substitute in soup and stew recipes.


Remember that harissa can vary in intensity, so it’s best to start with smaller amounts. Half a tablespoon of harissa for every tablespoon of achiote powder is a good starting point.

4. Cumin And Cayenne Pepper

Cumin is an aromatic spice with peppery notes. However, cumin alone will not be as flavorful as achiote paste.

Mixing cumin with cayenne pepper helps create a closer flavor match. This option is an excellent choice for stews, soups, and marinades.

The combination renders a smoky and earthy taste with a mild heat level. Do note that it will have a more bitter flavor than achiote.


Use 1-2 teaspoons of the cumin and pepper mixture to replace each tablespoon of achiote paste. Add more, depending on the dish that you’re making.

5. Paprika Powder

Paprika might just be the best alternative for achiote paste. It’s easy to find, and it’s most probably already in your pantry.

This condiment is a good choice if you’re looking for an alternative that does not have much heat.

Paprika uses dried, powdered chiles and has a smoky flavor similar to achiote. It helps add a pleasant color to dishes that use achiote.

Choose a sweet or smoked variety based on your preference to add a reddish hue to your dishes.


Use the same amount of paprika powder as the achiote paste your recipe needs.

6. Turmeric Powder

Turmeric powder is a brightly colored spice that is popular in Indian cuisine. It has a mildly spicy and earthy flavor, like achiote. Yet, turmeric powder has a much milder taste than achiote paste.

Combine it with other spices like cumin, paprika, and garlic powder to enhance the flavor complexity.

Because of the vibrant color of turmeric powder, it only works in dishes that can take on a bright yellow hue.


Use half a tablespoon of turmeric to replace each tablespoon of achiote paste in your dishes.

7. Red Pepper Flakes

Bowl with red pepper flakes and fresh red peppers next to it.

Red pepper flakes have a deep, spicy flavor that adds a nice touch of heat to any dish. People make them using dried and crushed red chili peppers. So, this ingredient has a vibrant red hue.

It is a great substitute because it packs the same intense flavor as achiote paste. Note that the color of red pepper flakes does not bleed, so unless you use a ton of them, they won’t turn your dish red.


Opt for a 1:1 ratio when using red pepper flakes as an alternative. You can use less if you don’t want your dish to be too spicy.

8. Saffron Powder

Saffron also has a distinct orange color. This characteristic is similar to achiote paste, making it an ideal substitute.

Remember that saffron powder’s flavor can easily get lost in a dish. This ingredient may not be your best option if you need stronger flavors.

Plus, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. If you’re on a tight budget, there are better alternatives for you.

Crush a few threads and soak them in warm water or broth to release the color and flavor before adding them to your dish.


Use a quarter teaspoon of saffron powder for every teaspoon of achiote powder.

9. Nutmeg

Nutmeg has a warm flavor that’s similar to cinnamon and allspice. Its taste is slightly sweet with earthy notes, like achiote.

This spice works great with savory and sweet recipes. That said, it is a good substitute for achiote paste in many dishes.

The downside is that it has a brownish-green hue, far from achiote’s vibrant orange color. Using it will not give you the same dish, at least in appearance.


When using nutmeg in place of achiote paste, follow a 1:1 ratio.

10. Tex Mex Powder

Tex Mex powder uses ancho chili peppers, garlic, and cumin, among others. It is a popular spice in Southwestern cuisine.

This powder shares similar ingredients and flavor notes with achiote paste. For this reason, it is an ideal replacement.

This option is the best replacement when using achiote paste as a meat rub.


Follow a 1:1 ratio when using Tex Mex powder as an achiote paste substitute.

11. Sriracha

White bowl filled with bright sriracha sauce and topped with fresh red pepper.

The distinctive flavor of sriracha comes from red jalapeno peppers and garlic. Sriracha also has vinegar, sugar, and other spices.

What sriracha does not have is the smoky flavor of achiote. Still, the heat and color make it a good substitute for achiote paste.

This sauce is especially useful if you don’t have access to other substitutes. After all, sriracha is fairly easy to find.


Start by using half a tablespoon of sriracha to replace 1 tablespoon of achiote paste. Doing so helps ensure that the dish will not be too runny because of the consistency of sriracha.

12. Homemade Achiote Paste

If you can’t find a perfect replacement for your dish, try your hand at making your own achiote paste.

After all, homemade achiote paste is better because you know it’s fresh and has no additives. Plus, you can customize it according to your preferences.


  1. Place annatto seeds, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano in a food processor.
  2. Grind them until you get a fine powder.
  3. Add acids like vinegar or lemon juice.


Use your homemade achiote paste as you would store-bought achiote paste.

How To Choose The Best Achiote Substitute

There are a few things to consider when choosing the best achiote substitute. Here are some tips on how to choose the right replacement:

1. Pay Attention To The Flavor

Consider the flavor profile of the substitute. Determine how well it complements the dish you’re preparing.

Identify the flavor you want to stand out and choose a replacement accordingly.

For the closest flavor match, try the paprika powder.

2. Consider The Heat Level

Take into account the desired level of heat in your recipe. Achiote paste is not typically known for its spiciness.

That said, if you want something similar, choose Tex-Mex powder. The combination of cumin and Cayenne also works.

However, if you want a spicier dish, use substitutes like Sriracha and Sambal Oelek.

3. Look Out For The Color

Achiote paste is a coloring agent, after all, so it lends a rich red or orange color to dishes.

If achieving a vibrant color is important for your recipe, use saffron. On the other hand, if your dish can have another color, turmeric powder is a great option.

What Kind Of Seasoning Is Achiote?

Achiote is both a spice and coloring agent. It derives from the seeds of the achiote tree. It has a bright color and a deep flavor.

What Flavor Goes With Achiote?

To create delicious and balanced dishes, use achiote with ingredients that have citrus, sweet, and smoky flavors.
Citrus juices like lemon and lime juice also brighten achiote’s taste. Their tangy and acidic qualities help balance achiote’s richness. On the other hand, sweet flavors help counter the bitter undertones of achiote.

Is Achiote The Same As Paprika?

No, achiote seeds and paprika are not the same. They are two different seasonings with different flavors, origins, and culinary uses. However, paprika is among the best achiote paste substitutes.

What Is Another Name For Achiote?

Achiote also goes by annatto, atsuete, urucum, and bija. If you cannot find achiote in stores, try looking for these names on the labels.

What is achiote paste made from?

Achiote paste, also known as annatto paste, is primarily made from annatto seeds (Bixa orellana). The bright red seeds of the annatto tree are dried and ground into a powder or made into a paste by combining them with various other ingredients. Other common ingredients can include spices such as garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Vinegar or citrus juices like lime or orange are often added to aid in the paste’s formation and preservation.

Is achiote paste hot or spicy?

Achiote paste itself is not inherently hot or spicy. Its flavor profile is more characterized by earthy, peppery, and slightly sweet notes. However, some variations of achiote paste may include additional spices that can contribute to heat or spiciness, such as the inclusion of chili peppers or cayenne pepper.


Achiote paste is a seasoning and coloring agent people widely use in Latin American cooking. It has a striking bright red or orange color that brings life to dishes. Its peppery, earthy, and slightly bitter taste provides a distinct flavor, too.

If you do not have this paste or you want a slightly different flavor, there are many alternatives that you can use. The top options are Sambal Oelek, harissa, paprika powder, and turmeric powder. If you can’t find an achiote paste substitute, you can make your own annatto paste.

Black bowl filled with achiote with annato seeds on the background.

Achiote Paste Substitute

Natalia-Flavorful Home
If you love Latin American Cuisine, you might be looking for an Achiote paste substitute that will infuse your dishes with rich color and captivating taste. Here's a recipe for homemade achiote paste.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course spice blend
Cuisine Latin American-Inspired


  • 2 tbsp annatto seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp vinegar  (such as white vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp orange juice  (freshly squeezed would work the best)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)


  • Heat a small skillet over medium-low heat and add the annatto seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, dried oregano, and coriander seeds. Toast the spices for about 2-3 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let them cool.
  • Once cooled, transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and grind them into a fine powder.
  • Combine. In a small bowl, combine the ground spices with minced garlic, vinegar, orange juice, vegetable oil, and salt. Mix well to form a paste-like consistency. Adjust the salt to your taste preferences.
  • Adjust consistency. If the paste is too thick, you can add a little more oil or citrus juice to achieve the desired consistency. If it's too thin, you can add a small amount of ground annatto seeds to thicken it.
  • Transfer the achiote paste to a jar or airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. The flavors will continue to develop over time.


Remember to adjust the quantity of the paste based on your taste preferences and the specific dish you’re preparing.
Enjoy the vibrant flavors it adds to your Latin American and Caribbean-inspired cuisine!


Calories: 179kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 2gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 8gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0.1gSodium: 2333mgPotassium: 225mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 118IUVitamin C: 20mgCalcium: 76mgIron: 2mg
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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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