In central parts of Mexico, al pastor is a pretty common dish. In fact, it’s commonly ordered at Mexican restaurants around the city here in San Antonio, Texas. Al pastor is typically pork based and is marinated in a mixture of dried chilies, spices, and pineapple. Have you ever ordered Tacos al Pastor? If you have, you probably fell in love at first bite! But did you ever wonder where the redness of the meat came from? It came from the plant achiote!
You may know it as the lipstick plant, achiote, or Bixa Orellana. Nonetheless, most Mexicans know this plant as achiote, so we’ll stick to that term for now. For centuries, it was primarily used as a textile dye and as a natural food coloring originating from South America. The plant gets its color from their red capsules which contain tiny red or yellow seeds inside. The seeds themselves are called annatto. While annatto smells pleasant, sweet, and peppery, it tastes dry, mild, and earthy.
According to famous legends, when the Spanish explored the Amazon Basin, they came across Yagua Indians or Nihamwo. The Yaguas territory stretched from Colombia to Brazil, and they were dressed in red palm fiber skirts (dyed with annatto) and were armed with blow guns as weapons. The Spanish thought these men were actually women since they were dressed in skirts. They decided to name the large river after Greek mythological Amazon women warriors… the Amazon River.
Back in the day, they not only used the coloring for textile dyes, but they also used it for body paint. They may have used the body paint for different purposes or reasons like to distinguish a level of importance or hierarchy, for ceremonies, etc.
The native people from the Amazon saw annatto much more resourceful than just for color. They were able to produce gum from the bark’s resin and made string from the plant’s fibers. The gum helped create a substance that would treat conjunctivitis, and the leaves from the plant helped treat dermatitis and hepatitis.
In the 1700’s, European explorers realized the huge importance of the plant and the plant began being exported. Soon, the plant was also being shipped to India and Southeast Asia. In Latin America, Europe, and the USA, annatto was primarily used as food coloring for cheese, butter, margarine, egg products, seasonings, and more. Now, you are probably more familiar with it being used to provide color and flavor beef or pork!
If you are looking for traditional Mexican food in the San Antonio or Stone Oak area, look no further than Costa Pacifica Mexican-Style Seafood. Offering more than just seafood, Costa Pacifica also specializes in various flares, like beef ribeye and oriental chicken. Be sure to order Tacos al Pastor or another one of our popular, traditional dishes. There’s something on the menu for everyone to enjoy! Next time you’re craving Mexican food, be sure to head on over to Costa Pacifica.