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The 5 Best Substitutes for Achiote Paste

Achiote Paste is a savory spice with a tangy-sour flavor.

It’s frequently used in Latin American, Caribbean, and East Asian dishes.

Also known as annatto or Lombok, it comes from the seeds of the achiote tree, which grow on small evergreen trees originating from tropical regions of Central America and some parts of South America.

Achiote Paste is used in various ways; it may be added directly to recipes or combined with other ingredients.

These dishes include but aren’t limited to: stews, soups, rice dishes, fish and shrimp marinades, meat rubs, ceviche, chili powders, bagoong (a paste of fish or shrimp used in Filipino cuisine), pickled vegetables, chorizo, and various dishes in Mexican taqueria.

However, the flavor of Achiote Paste is difficult to work with because it requires special care when cooking lest it becomes bitter or too strong.

This difficulty occurs because annatto’s taste isn’t very common among the general population.

In this article, we will explore common substitutes for Achiote Paste and talk about the flavor profiles of these substitutes.

What is Achiote Paste?

what is achiote paste

Achiote paste is a bright red, slightly tangy seasoning made from ground annatto seeds.

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It can add flavor to stews, chicken, and rice dishes.

In Mexico, the paste is often cooked in oil or lard before adding to a dish.

Different names throughout Latin America know achiote paste.

It may be called achiote paste, recado rojo or annatto paste.

Achiote paste can be used to marinate the meat before cooking.

Marinating the meat in the seasoning for 4 hours is usually enough to flavor it.

If you wish to add more intense flavor, marinate the meat overnight in a sealed container.

After this point, discard the leftover paste and rinse the meat thoroughly before cooking it.

The paste is also used with other spices and ingredients to create a flavorful broth for braising meat or cooking rice.

Achiote paste can be purchased at most Latin grocery stores and some well-stocked supermarkets.

In a pinch, you can make your paste by combining annatto seeds with either oil or lard.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Achiote Paste

If you can’t find achiote paste at your local grocery store, don’t worry.

Here are five great substitutes you can try:

1 – Harissa


Harissa is a paste made from chilies, coriander, caraway seeds, and garlic.

You can make it yourself or purchase it at your local Middle Eastern market.

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This strong chili paste has an intense flavor.

It may add heat to meat dishes throughout North Africa and France.

The sauce may also be used as a spread for sandwiches.

Harissa can be made from a variety of different types of chili peppers.

The sauce is typically eaten with lamb dishes.

Furthermore, this paste has a rich and smoky flavor similar to both paprika and cayenne pepper.

2 – Sambal Olek

sambal olek

Sambal oelek is a chili paste from Indonesia.

It comes from a mixture of red chilies, vinegar, sugar, and salt.

You may find this delicious condiment in Asian grocery stores and online retailers.

It’s crucial to note that it has a much saltier flavor than other chili pastes.

This is due to the addition of salt to the mixture.

When cooking with Sambal oelek, you can add it to marinades or use it in stir-fry recipes.

It’ll also give any dish added heat and smokiness.

This chili paste is made from any chili pepper.

It can be red or green, depending on the used mix.

3 – Make Your Paste

make your paste

It’s possible to make your achiote paste.

To do this, you’ll need lard and annatto seeds.

For every three tablespoons of lard, add one tablespoon of annatto seeds.

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Once you have the mixture in an airtight container, let it sit overnight in a dark place at room temperature.

Once this paste has rested, combine it with lime juice and cumin.

This mixture will be your achiote paste substitute.

The result is a vibrant orange-colored paste that can be used as needed.

You may use this condiment for stews, marinades, or rice dishes.

It’s also great for fish or chicken recipes.

4 – Cumin and Cayenne Pepper

cumin and cayenne pepper

Cumin is an aromatic, peppery spice that can be used as a substitute for achiote paste.

In addition to cumin, you may also add cayenne pepper for extra heat.

Combine these two spices and use them in similar ways as achiote paste.

Cumin is most popular in Mexican and Mediterranean cooking.

It’s crucial to know that this spice has a slightly bitter taste, making it ideal for stews, soups, and marinades.

Cumin also pairs well with tomatoes, onion, and garlic.

Cilantro may be added to cumin if achiote paste is unavailable.

This mixture may be used as a marinade for chicken dishes.

5 – Guajillo Chili Powder

guajillo chili powder

Guajillo chili powder is made from ground guajillo chilies.

The powder’s flavor is similar to that of ancho or chipotle pepper, which are both commonly used in Mexican cuisine.

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However, it isn’t as spicy as those peppers.

This red chili powder can be used as a substitute for achiote paste.

Combine the powder with other spices and use it in your recipes.

It’s possible to make your guajillo chili powder by using dried guajillo chilies and grinding them into a fine powder.

Then, combine the powder with other spices and use it in your recipes.

You can even use the mixture as a marinade for chicken or fish dishes.


Achiote paste is a popular ingredient in Latin American cooking.

This condiment is typically made from annatto seeds, allspice, and other spices.

However, it can be difficult to find this product when traveling worldwide.

Luckily, there are several great substitutes that you may utilize in your recipes.

Harissa, sambal oelek, achiote paste, make your paste, or guajillo chili powder can be substituted for this condiment.

Each of these alternatives has the bright red color and smokiness that you’ll need to complete your Latin American recipes.

Yield: 4 Servings

The 5 Best Substitutes for Achiote Paste

The 5 Best Substitutes for Achiote Paste
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • Harissa
  • Sambal Olek
  • Make Your Paste
  • Cumin and Cayenne Pepper
  • Guajillo Chili Powder


  1. Pick your favorite substitute from the list above.
  2. Follow cooking directions for your selected substitute with the proper ratio of ingredients.
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