Botanically known as Bixa orellana
Annatto is an evergreen shrub/small tree upto 8m tall with the trunk 10cm in diameter. The bark is pale to dark brown with greenish branches. The fruit contains oval capsules about 4cm long, red brown in colour. It contains seeds with bright orange-red fleshy seed coat.
Part of Plant Used
The seeds are used to extract colour. The tradition method of dye preparation varies from country to country. The most common method consists of extracting dye from seeds by soaking and pressing them in water to dissolve the fleshy seed-coat. Then it is left to ferment for a week and the dye that has settled at the bottom is separated and made in form of cakes.
Native to tropical America, in the wild state annatto is found in the rainforests. Requires frost free, warm, humid climate and a sunny location. Cultivated commercially in tropical Africa. Main commercial producers are South Africa, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and India, Sri Lanka.
Dyeing with Annatto
Annatto can be used directly without the application of any mordant to dye animal and vegetable fibre. More widely used to dye silk due to its moderate fastness. Preparation involves the paste being pressed through a sieve with ash or the same weight as the dye. This turns the brownish red annatto to a golden colour. The mixture is then showered with hot water and the dye bath is boiled twice. Then washed with cold water. It can be used several times. It gives shade of brownish orange by varying mordants and temperature.
* Also can be used as Soap Making Colorant and Candle Making Colorant.