How to use annatto seeds to create vivid orange natural soap. Annatto comes from the achiote tree and has is also used to tint cheese, butter, and other foods yellow to orange.
Though there are a lot of dyes that you can use to color soap, it’s often roots, herbs, and seeds that create the most beautiful shades. Alkanet for purple, woad for blue-green, and even daffodils for yellow. Use this Annatto Soap Recipe to get a vivid orange colored soap. It’s honestly almost electric orange, yet won’t stain your body or the bubbles.
In south and central America annatto seeds have traditionally been used to color food and to create body paint. When ground up they’re also said to taste and smell slightly peppery although they didn’t scent my own oil. Annatto is also used in modern food coloring to tint cheese, butter, and popcorn. My soap color is similar to cheddar cheese so I can definitely see that.
Where to get Annatto Seeds
Annatto seeds aren’t common in the average supermarket but you can purchase them from some ethnic food shops. However, the easiest and probably less expensive place to get them is online. Here are sources to get them in the US and Britain. You’ll need to order and infuse the seeds for at least a month before you make the annatto soap recipe below.
Citrusy Annatto Soap Recipe
1lb / 453g batch – made two chunky bars and two normal sized bars
Read my free 4-part soapmaking series here
65g / 2.3oz Sodium Hydroxide
130g / 4.2oz Water
15g / 0.53oz Olive oil
127g / 4.48oz Olive oil infused with Annatto Seeds
38g / 1.34 oz Grapeseed oil
20g / 0.72 oz Castor oil
1tsp Dried Calendula flower petals (pressed firmly into measuring spoon)
Step 1: Infuse the Annatto seeds in oil
The way that the color is extracted is through infusing the whole seeds in light oil — light in color and in texture. For this recipe I filled glass jar with 142g of light olive oil and then added 1 teaspoon (6g) of annatto seeds. You then leave it in a warm place out of direct sunlight for about a month.
The oil’s color change happened after this time but I put the jar in a cabinet and promptly forgot about it until recently. It’s good to know that it will last for over six months without losing color or scenting the oil.
To use the oil you need to strain it through a fine sieve and measure it — of the 142g of oil I began with, I only got 127g in the end. The rest was stuck inside the jar and on the sieve. I used all 127g of it to make this batch of soap but if you get more, please use it in the recipe.
Step 2: Organise your workspace
Before you make this Annatto Soap Recipe it’s safety first! Make sure to be wearing closed-toe shoes, long sleeves, eye protection (goggles), and latex/vinyl or washing-up gloves. You’ll be working with Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) and splashing a bit on your skin isn’t pleasant. To learn more about lye and lye safety read this piece on the equipment and safety needed for soapmaking.
You also need to have all of your ingredients measured and your work surface organised. Open a window for ventilation, close doors on pets and children, and have everything you need laid out:
- Sodium Hydroxide and water measured into heat-proof containers: glass, pyrex, or polypropelene plastic
- Solid oils measured into a small stainless steel pan.
- Liquid oils measured into a bowl
- Mold set out and ready. You’ll also need a light towel so have that ready too.
- Stick blender plugged in and ready
- Digital thermometer out
- Utensils laid out: stainless steel spoon for stirring the lye solution, a small fine-mesh strainer, and a flexible spatula
- Fragrance and extras at the ready: essential oil, grapefruit seed extract, and flower petals
- Read all of the directions in this piece thoroughly before making your soap.
- To read my free four-part series on natural soapmaking head over here
Step 3: Create the Lye Solution
If you’re like me and have a window above your kitchen sink then you can work there. If not, you’ll need to create your lye solution near another window (or better yet, outside) for ventilation.
- Holding the jug of water away from you and towards that open window, pour the lye crystals into the water and stir well. Steam, fumes, and heat are the product of water and dry lye combining. Be wary of all three.
- Place the steaming jug of lye-water in the sink. Next fill the sink with a little water to help the lye solution cool. Use a basin if you’re working away from your sink.
Step 4: Heat the solid oils
Move away from the lye and begin melting the solid oils on the lowest heat possible on your hob. When there are just a few pieces of solid oil floating in the pan, turn off the heat and move the pan to a pot holder. Stir with your spatula until all of the oils are melted.
Step 5: Mix your oils
When the solid oils are melted, pour your liquid oils into the pan. Use the spatula to get as much of the oils in as possible — castor oil has a real tendency to stick. Also, place the 1 teaspoon of calendula petals in the oils at this time too.
Now measure the temperature of your oils with your digital thermometer. You want to get it down to about 130°F / 54°C.
Step 6: Balance the temperatures
Once you have a read on your oil temperature, head back over to the lye solution and take its temperature too. It’s fine to go back and forth with the digital thermometer for both.
You’re aiming here to get the lye-solution and the oils in the pan to be within 5 degrees of each other in temperature. You also want that range to be around the 130°F / 54°C mark.
Step 7: Stick Blending
When the temperatures are balanced, it’s time to mix the lye-solution with the oils. Pour the lye-solution through the mini strainer (to catch any pieces that might not have dissolved) and into the pan of warm oils.
Next, place the stick blender into the pan and use it to stir the mixture together gently. The head of the stick blender should be completely immersed in the oil-lye solution. If it isn’t, you need to use a smaller pan.
Bring the stick blender to a stand-still in the centre of your pan and then press pulse for a few seconds. Then stir gently again for a moment and repeat the stand-still stick blending. Use the stick blender to shred the calendula petals.
Continue pulsing and stirring your soap batter until it hits a light ‘Trace’. This means that the batter thickens and if some of it dribbles down from the stick blender, it will leave a mark on the surface of your soap-batter before falling back in.
Step 8: Add the Fragrance
When your soap batter has thickened to a ‘light trace’ it’s time to stir in your essential oil and the Grapefruit Seed Extract which is an anti-oxidant. You do not need to use preservatives when making handmade soap. Anti-oxidants help keep the oils in your soap from going ‘rancid’.
Pour each of them into the soap batter and gently stir until they are all dispersed. Give it a good 20-30 seconds of stirring.
Step 9: Mold & Decorate your Soap
Pour your annatto soap batter into your silicone mold in a place where you can leave the mold for 24 hours. If you’re using a Silicone Loaf Soap Mold like mine it will only come part of the way up. Use your spatula to get as much of your soap out of the pan and into your mold.
Settle the soap so that it has a flat top. You do this by gently shaking the mold.
The final touch is laying more dried flower petals on top, making sure to think about how you want to cut the loaf up into bars. When this is finished, wrap the mold with the towel making sure it doesn’t touch the top of the soap.
Step 10: Cut and Cure your Annatto Soap
After a day has passed you can take your annatto soap out of the mold. This recipe hardens quickly so it should pop right out of the mold. Next, use an ordinary kitchen knife and cutting board to slice it into bars.
Now is the hard part — waiting for your soap to ‘Cure’. Place your bars on a layer of grease-proof paper on a book-shelf or another place that’s airy and out of direct sunlight. Leave for a full month before using the bars. It needs that time to finish turning into soap and to allow the water to evaporate out. For full instructions on how to cure handmade soap head over here
If you enjoyed this Annatto Soap Recipe, check out some other naturally colored soaps you can make over here.