Bija are the red seeds of a small tree, abundant throughout tropical America. Because of their deep red color, the natives of the Caribbean Islands used the seeds for decorating their bodies. Clay stamps have also been found with the remains of Bija which shows that they also used them to decorate their clay pots and maybe their cave walls. Annatto is used in Latin America to color and flavor food, usually in the form of Annatto oil (Aceite de Achiote). Traditionally Annatto has been used in medications. Available as a spice in most Supermarkets with ethnic food aisles.
BIJA OIL-ACEITE DE BIJA
During the cooking, the seeds give off a rich-orange color, if they are cooked too long this changes to a lighter, golden color and much of the flavor is lost. It is impossible to give an absolutely precise cooking time as the freshness of the seeds is a factor. Very stale seeds will give off all their color in one minute of cooking. Watch the saucepan carefully and remove it from the heat immediately when the color begins to lighten.
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup achiote (annatto seed)
Heat for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time until a rich orange color is obtained. Cool, strain, and store the oil in a covered jar in the refrigerator. It will keep for several months. Use as directed in recipes. Makes about 1 cup.