Exploring the Top 7 Substitutes for Achiote Paste in Latin American Cuisine

7 Best Substitutes For Achiote Paste

Achiote paste is a popular condiment in Latin American, Central American, and Caribbean cuisines, known for its pungent, earthy flavor and bright yellow or reddish color. However, if you find yourself without achiote paste, there are several excellent alternatives that can be used in its place. In this article, we will explore the seven best substitutes for achiote paste and discuss their flavor profiles and culinary uses.

1. Harissa

Harissa is a chili paste that originated in North Africa and is commonly used in Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian cuisines. It is made by grinding chilies, including bell peppers, along with coriander, caraway, and garlic. The resulting paste has a peppery and smoky flavor with varying levels of heat depending on the type of pepper used.
Harissa can be an excellent substitute for achiote paste due to its bold flavor and vibrant color. It works particularly well with lamb dishes and can be used to flavor soups, stews, and vegetables. Whether store-bought or homemade, harissa adds an earthy, spicy kick to your recipes.

2. Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chili paste made from equal parts red chilies, vinegar, sugar and salt. It has a spicy flavor and a significantly saltier profile compared to other chili pastes. Sambal Oelek is commonly found in Asian grocery stores and can be used as a substitute for achiote paste.
With its intense heat and unique flavor, Sambal Oelek adds an extra layer of heat to your dishes. It works especially well in marinades and stir-fries, adding a fiery kick to your recipes. Its versatility and availability make it a great alternative to achiote paste.

3. Guajillo Chili Powder

Guajillo chili powder is a Mexican spice made from ground guajillo chilies. Guajillo chilies have a mild to medium heat, making them suitable for those who prefer milder flavors. The powder has a smoky and slightly sweet flavor that adds depth to a variety of dishes.
As a substitute for achiote paste, guajillo chile powder can provide a similar flavor profile and a rich red color. It pairs well with ingredients such as tomatoes, garlic, onions and cumin, making it an excellent choice for chicken and fish marinades. You can easily find guajillo chili powder in stores or make your own at home using dried guajillo peppers and a spice grinder.

4. Paprika Paste

Paprika paste is made from dried and ground red peppers, and while it may not offer the exact flavor profile of achiote paste, it does add a bright red color to dishes. Paprika is a common spice in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines and can be used as a substitute in certain recipes.
With its mild and sweet flavor, paprika paste works well as a seasoning or to add color to stews, soups and other dishes. It is readily available in stores, or you can make your own paprika paste at home. When using paprika paste as a substitute for achiote paste, start with a small amount and adjust to taste.

5. Tex Mex Paste

Tex Mex paste is a popular seasoning in Southwestern cuisine. It is made with ancho chiles, garlic, cumin, and other spices, and shares similar ingredients with achiote paste. While it may not be available in stores, there are several spice blends similar to Tex Mex paste that can serve as a suitable substitute.
Tex Mex paste is known for its robust flavor and versatility in dishes such as meat rubs and taco fillings. It is easy to make at home with readily available ingredients. The combination of ancho chiles, garlic, and spices creates a flavorful substitute for achiote paste.

6. Annatto Oil

Annatto oil is a culinary ingredient derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, the same tree that produces achiote paste. It is commonly used in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines to add color and flavor to dishes. Annatto oil can be made by steeping achiote seeds in oil over low heat until the oil takes on a deep red color.
A direct derivative of the achiote seed, annatto oil adds a similar color and subtle flavor to dishes. It can be used as a marinade or added to soups, stews, and sauces to enhance their appearance. Annatto oil is a convenient substitute for achiote paste when you need to add a touch of color to your recipes.

7. Turmeric

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines. While it does not have the exact flavor profile of achiote paste, its bright color can be a suitable substitute in certain dishes.
Turmeric adds a warm and earthy flavor to recipes and can be used in curries, rice dishes, and sauces. Its bright yellow hue can provide a visual appeal similar to achiote paste. Keep in mind, however, that turmeric has a distinct flavor, so it’s best to use it in dishes where its flavor complements the other ingredients.


If you cannot find achiote paste, there are several excellent substitutes that can help you achieve similar flavors and colors in your dishes. Harissa, sambal oelek, guajillo chili powder, paprika paste, Tex Mex paste, annatto oil, and turmeric are all viable options to consider.
Each substitute offers its own unique flavor profile and culinary uses, so experiment to find the best fit for your recipes. Whether you’re looking for a smoky kick, spicy heat, or vibrant color, these substitutes can help you achieve the results you’re looking for.
Remember to start with small amounts and adjust to taste when using these substitutes. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the flavors and heat levels of the substitutes before incorporating them into your dishes.
So the next time you need achiote paste but don’t have any on hand, try one of these substitutes and let your culinary creativity run wild. Have fun exploring new flavors and discovering the versatility of these alternatives in your cooking endeavors.


1. What is achiote paste and why would I need a substitute?

Achiote paste is a spice commonly used in Latin American, Central American, and Caribbean cuisines for its distinct flavor and vibrant color. However, if you don’t have achiote paste on hand or are looking for alternatives, these substitutes can help you achieve similar flavor and visual appeal in your dishes.

2. Where can I find these achiote paste substitutes?

Many of these substitutes, such as harissa, sambal oelek, and paprika paste, can be found in well-stocked grocery or specialty food stores. Some substitutes, such as annatto oil and turmeric, can be made at home with readily available ingredients. Online retailers and international food markets may also carry these substitutes.

3. Are these substitutes as spicy as achiote paste?

The level of heat varies among the substitutes. Harissa and sambal oelek can provide a noticeable amount of heat, while substitutes like guajillo chili powder and paprika paste offer milder flavors. It’s important to taste and adjust the amount of substitutes used in your recipe according to your spice preferences.

4. Can these substitutes be used in the same way as achiote paste?

Yes, these substitutes can be used in much the same way as achiote paste. They can be used as marinades, rubs, or added to sauces, stews, soups, and various dishes to add flavor and color. It’s important to note, however, that each substitute has its own unique flavor profile, so it’s recommended that you experiment and adjust the amount based on your desired flavor.

5. Can I combine different substitutes to mimic the taste of achiote paste?

Of course you can! Feel free to experiment and combine different substitutes to create a flavor profile that resembles achiote paste. For example, you can mix paprika paste with a touch of turmeric, or add some guajillo chile powder to harissa for a smoky and spicy combination. Don’t be afraid to get creative and customize the substitutions to suit your tastes.

6. Can these substitutes be used interchangeably in recipes?

While these substitutes can replace achiote paste, it’s important to consider their individual flavor profiles and adjust the amounts accordingly. Some substitutes may have a stronger taste or pungency, so it’s recommended to start with smaller amounts and gradually add more, tasting as you go. This will help you maintain the balance of flavors in your recipes.