Roucou is our local term for Annatto extract. Annatto is the seed of the fruit from the Achiote tree also known as Bixa Orellana which was the name given to the tree by the Spanish. However in Tupi or Tupian language which is a collection of languages spoken by the first peoples in South America, the seeds are known as Uruku. So essentially, the name roucou is the original name for the seed/plant and it is the name we use to refer to it by to this day. Annatto was used by the indigenous peoples on the island both as a dye, body paint, lipstick as well as a spice in food. Today it is still widely used in cuisines throughout Latin America as well as in Vietnam and The Philippines. The extract is also used as a natural food coloring in many products like cheese, butter, margarine and ice cream.
In Trinidad & Tobago the most mainstream use is in the making of Pastelles around Christmas time and this is a direct influence from Venezuelan cuisine. However in communities like Lopinot, Paramin and parts of Arima roucou is still a main ingredient in everyday cooking.
Roucou has a slight sweet, peppery and earthy taste and it adds a rich depth of flavor to any soup or stew. These fruits were purchased from a lady in central market, Port Of Spain and she was kind enough to share a few pointers on how to make the extract .The fruit is quite easy to open and you have to be very careful when working with it they will stain your fingers and literally anything you touch. All you need to do is remove the seeds from the pod and you’re good to go. Now this is a painstaking process so when you go to the market and the vendor tells you its $20 for a small bottle and $40 for a big bottle of roucou… just reach into your pocket and pay the money. It is worth every dollar.
Roucou (Annatto Extract) Ingredients
6 tbsp annatto seeds
4 cups water
4 bay leaves
pinch of salt
Bring water to a boil
Add bay leaves and annatto
Add a pinch of salt
Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature