Annatto Safety for Food Coloring

Image Credit: tonrulkens / Flickr

Is annatto food coloring safe?

I’d like to know if annato is helpful, harmful, or neutral…In general, do you know of natural food dyes? I think you mentioned that in place of using the dye from the cochineal beetle that cherries could be used. I have used spinach and mint for green, and beets for red and raspberries for pink. I think annato is used for the yellow-orange color. I did ruin one dish going for red coloring where the beet flavoring was too strong. I’ll try shaving the vegetables after cooking and then dehydrating and grinding to reduce the flavor.

bsmithson / Originally posted on Latest in Nutrition vol. 7 DVD now available (proceeds to charity)


Annatto is a food dye derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Although there have been case reports of severe allergic reactions and irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms reported, there haven’t been any comprehensive studies done to date on humans. In fact data is so sparse that the World Health Organization just pulled their tentative Acceptable Daily Intake specifications. If I see anything new I’ll let you know. In the meanwhile, I find the WHO expert reports to be trustworthy when it comes to food additives, accessible at:

Bottom line, I’d try to stay away from artificial food colors (see my videos Artificial Coloring in FishAre Artificial Colors Harmful?, and Are Artificial Colors Bad for You?). And if you’re looking for a colorful health-promoting spice I’d suggest turmeric (see video here) or saffron:

Image credit: tonrulkens / Flickr


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

8 responses to “Is annatto food coloring safe?

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  1. There haven’t been any large scale studies on annatto, however there have been cases of reactions in some people with nut allergies or sensitivities including anaphylaxis.

    Because the status of annatto as a tree nut is uncertain, it is not listed on the FDA list of nuts, food manufacturers are not required to put a nut warning label on foods that contain annatto. They are, however, required to list annatto in the ingredient list. (Jeanette Bradley – Food Allergy Expert)

    1. II used a yellow cheese in an omelet and after 2 hours, I started to vomit for almost 2 hours. This is normal when I am allergic to a food. I am very allergic to mangoes and oranges. I avoid annatto, but I am finding it in almost all yellow/orange cheeses.

    1. Hum, it does not look like small amounts (69mg/kg) did any changes. Those amounts used are not small and I don’t think indicative of what we would consume. They must have used the same rats in this study where they found no carcinogenesis properties Annatto is a natural food coloring that is safe for most people.

  2. My son goes in to severe respiratory distress if he consumes anything with annatto. He is also allergic to tree-nuts. Unfortunately many companies are replacing artificial colours with annatto as a natural alternative. And you can find it in many “nut-free” products. I believe there’s a correlation with annatto and tree nuts. There needs to be more research.

  3. Hi, Tara. I absolutely agree that more research is needed on this. A food or additive is definitely not safe for those who are allergic to it, although it may be perfectly safe for those who are not. Annatto is from a seed, and some people with nut allergies also react to other seeds. At this point, with regard to annatto, we really don’t know, until they “put it to the test.” Thanks for your comment.

  4. My 51 year old son is allergic to annotto. Since so many manufacturers are
    using it (and not all are showing it on the label), he is having a hard time finding
    food that he used to be able to eat safely. His mouth swells up and he breaks
    out in welts and he is miserable.

    There needs to be more research on Annotto, NOW!

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