an·​nat·​to ə-ˈnä-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce annatto (audio)
: a yellowish-red dyestuff made from the pulp around the seeds of a tropical American tree (Bixa orellana)
: the tree from which annatto is derived
also : its dried seed used to color and flavor food

Examples of annatto in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But Bacolod’s homemade version is very easy — just sauteing the various ingredients in annatto oil until the sauce is reduced. Caron Golden, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 May 2024 And the steaming Hue-style soup — red with annatto and tingling with lemongrass — is a throwback to when chef Lan Tran ran a pho restaurant in her native Vietnam. Vietnamese and vegetarian, Chay makes a splash in Falls Church Tran’s partner in the restaurant and in life is Thi Le. Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, 20 Feb. 2024 Trending Stories The Best Places to Travel in February Caitlin Morton One of my most favorite ingredients to showcase both in classes, in lectures, and in my book is achiote, or annatto seed. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, 25 Jan. 2024 It’s made with corn dough colored with annatto oil, which gives the dough a distinctive flavor. Roxsy Lin, Los Angeles Times, 18 Dec. 2023 But Torres and Corona Ruiz have learned to apply the elder’s minimalist adobo — salt, garlic, pepper and oregano, supplemented with a housemade annatto oil rubbed over the animal — in ways that leave the meat moister and more consistent than the traditional multiday cure. Tim Carman, Washington Post, 5 Dec. 2023 Whole Foods store-brand riff on the classic is made with eight ingredients, like cream, vanilla extract, a blend of stabilizers, and annatto extract for color. Ali Francis, Bon Appétit, 29 Aug. 2022 It’s made with the juices derived from cooking birria, the trad-Mexican marinated beef stew, which is then spiked with chiles, onions, cilantro, spicy-sweet annatto paste and maybe some witchcraft. Matt Wake |, al, 17 July 2023 The annatto, citrus juices and habanero imbue the meat with a warm-weather brilliance that feels earthy and, ironically for roasted meat, refreshing at the same time. Ben Mims, Los Angeles Times, 16 July 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'annatto.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Cumaná (Cariban language of coastal Venezuela) onoto or a cognate Cariban source

Note: A loan from a Cariban language, but the direct source is not certain; it may have been a trade word transmitted through local Spanish. The word is first attested in Robert Harcourt's A Relation of a Voyage to Guiana (1613) ("There bee many rare and singular commodities for Diers, of which sort there is a red Berry called Annoto, which being rightly prepared by the Indians, dyeth a perfect and sure Orange-tawnie in Silke …"). (Friederici, in Amerikanistisches Wörterbuch, Hamburg, 1947, attributes the word inaccurately to Walter Raleigh's The Discovery of Guiana [1596]; the word was used by Raleigh in the form onotto, but only in the manuscript journal of his 1617 voyage.) The word onoto, glossed achiote, is listed in Matias Ruiz Blanco's Arte y Tesoro de la Lengua Cumanagota (1690); for later Cariban attestations see Friederici's Amerikanistisches Wörterbuch. The more general Cariban word for "annatto" is represented by Surinamese and Guyanese Carib (Karina) kusewe (see Friederici, also Henk Courtz's A Carib Grammar and Dictionary [Magoria Books, 2008]).

First Known Use

1629, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of annatto was in 1629

Dictionary Entries Near annatto

Cite this Entry

“Annatto.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


an·​nat·​to ə-ˈnät-ō How to pronounce annatto (audio)
plural annattos
: a yellowish red substance used for dyeing that is made from the pulp around the seeds of a tropical tree

Medical Definition


an·​nat·​to ə-ˈnät-(ˌ)ō How to pronounce annatto (audio) -ˈnat- How to pronounce annatto (audio)
: a yellowish red dyestuff made from the pulp around the seeds of a tropical tree (Bixa orellana of the family Bixaceae) and used especially for coloring oils, butter, and cheese

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