1. Product description and sources
7. Prospects and problems
A variety of pigments and food colorants are obtained from natural sources. Interest in use of natural food colorants is increasing worldwide (Francis, 1987). Annatto, indigo, aleppo galls and cochineal are important natural pigments; the first two obtained from naturally occurring plants, and the last two from insects, which have been discussed separately under insect products.
Annatto is a reddish-orange colorant, called bixin, derived from seeds of achiote tree (Bixa orellana) and widely used in food dyes and polishes. Annatto, a 2 to 6 meters shrub, is a native to tropical America and now grown in most tropical countries such as: Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Dominion Republic, Jamaica, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and to a lesser extent the Philippines, Turkey and Angola. The shrub grows wild but intensive cultures have been developed in exporting countries. The pigment concentration varies between 5% in hemispheric fruits, 3% - 3.58% in conical types and 1.5% - 2% in oval types (ITC, 1990).
The plant starts bearing at the age
of 3, and production continues for a period of 10 to 12 years. Yields vary from region to
region from 300 kg to 600 kg per ha, and exceptionally 750 to 900 kg per ha.
Annatto based colours are used in
food stuffs whenever yellow to orange reddish hues are needed. Annatto based colours are
used mainly in making cheese (about 50%), fish processing (20%), confectionery (10%), and
other uses including dairy products other than cheese (20%).
Average annual production of annatto seeds is in the range of 10,000 to 11,000 tonnes, of which 60.2 percent comes from Latin America, 27.4 percent from Africa, and 12.4 percent from Asia. Peru is the largest producer, accounting for 32 percent of the world total, followed by Kenya and Brazil (ITC, 1993).
The supply fluctuates considerably
due to weather conditions. In most producing countries, wild and cultivated annatto grow
side by side. When the prices are high, available supplies are increased by the collection
of wild annatto, and when they are low, collection from wild sources ceases.
Although annatto is produced in
developing countries, less than a third (about 27%) is locally processed. Major processing
plants are in Peru, Kenya, India and Brazil. The Peruvian production of Annatto seeds is
exported worldwide; Kenyan production is almost wholly exported to Japan, while the
largest part of Brazilian production is consumed locally.
Available ITC statistics (ITC, 1993) suggests that world import of annatto seeds during 1988 to 1992 period varied between 6,300 and 6,690 tonnes, while between 2,600 and 3,960 tonnes of annatto seeds equivalent were annually traded as annatto extracts. The USA is the largest single market for annatto in the world, accounting for about 40% of the worlds' total imports. The bulk of USA's imports is in the form of annatto seeds (91% to 93%), and the rest is extracts.
EEC countries are estimated to have
consumed about 2,000 tons of annatto seeds and 600 to 650 tonnes of annatto extracts in
1992. Consumption in Japan has increased steadily from 1500 tonnes in 1988 to 1920 tonnes
Price of annatto seeds is determined
by the bixin contents. Price of annatto rose sharply to US$ 2,100 per tonne during the
last quarter of 1987, but fell relatively to normal levels of US$ 1,100 to US$ 1,200 per
tonne during the last quarter of 1988. At this level of prices, collectors of wild seeds
from the United Republic of Tanzania, Mali, Zimbabwe or the Philippines tend to withdraw
from the market. Current market price (January 1993) is US$ 700 per tonne (fob) for top
Peruvian annatto, and US$ 450 per tonne for low quality Brazilian Annatto seeds (ITC,
Unusually high prices during 1987 induced over planting of annatto in Latin American countries like Honduras, Colombia, Bolivia, Guatemala or Costa Rica, which in return resulted in over production and resulted in the very depressed current market prices. The misfortune of the annatto farmers was confounded further by the fact that in the absence of any research and extension support, they planted varieties with bixin contents less than 2.7%, whereas market demand is for seeds with bixin contents of 2.7% to 3.5%.
The general policy of the United States Government during the last 20 years, of restricting the use of coal tar dyes in food stuffs, resulted in generalised use of annatto based colours.