Annatto soap recipe showing how to make naturally yellow to orange-colored soap. The natural colorant used is annatto seeds from the achiote tree, a food-safe ingredient that’s also brilliant for soap making! Depending on the infusion and the amount used, you can achieve beautiful yellows to vivid orange.
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Coloring soap is one of the most creative parts of soap making, and if you want to avoid synthetic dyes, there are dozens of natural colorants to use. Many of them are clay or plant-based and will give you almost every shade of the rainbow. Pastel blues, purple, pink, you name it! Natural soap colorants lean more towards soft or earthy hues, but a few really sing with color, including annatto seeds. Depending on how much you use, you can achieve soft to cheddar cheese yellows all the way to pumpkin orange. This annatto soap recipe will show you how it’s done.
The tutorial will walk you through making annatto-infused oil, different ways to do it, and how to use it to color your soap. You can use the technique for practically any soap recipe, though, so don’t feel compelled to stick to the one introduced. You could even choose to use soaping oils that are more golden in hue, like extra virgin olive oil, to contribute to the warmth of your final soap color.
What are Annatto Seeds
Annatto seeds are small and very hard red seeds used to naturally color soups, stews, and rice yellow. They are common in Latin American and Caribbean recipes, but you don’t eat them. Instead, the seeds are used to add color and then removed from the dish. You can find annatto powder, though, and it’s an ingredient in some Caribbean spice mixes. Annatto has even made its way into Indian cuisine and is used in much the same way to color sauces, rice, and other savory dishes.
Annatto seeds come from the fruit of the achiote tree Bixa orellana. It’s a native of Central and South America and, aside from being popular in cooking, is also known as the lipstick plant. Although the dried seeds color oils yellow to reddish-orange, the fresh juice of the seeds can be squeezed between the fingers and used as a red lip stain. Those fresh juicy seeds are dried out before most of us can get our hands on them, though, and what you’ll likely be able to source will be dried annatto seeds. You can also sometimes find ground annatto or even annatto paste. Avoid the paste for soapmaking since it has a lot of ingredients in it aside from annatto.
Annatto Seeds Color Soap Yellow to Orange
The natural color of annatto is in the waxy coating that surrounds the seed rather than in the seed itself. So no need to grind it up to make use of that gorgeous color! You need good quality seeds to color soap, though, and you can judge the quality by its color. Annatto seeds should be brick red, but they fade into more of a brown when old. Old annatto seeds won’t color your soap as intensely, so to avoid disappointment, don’t use them.
Finely ground annatto seeds are coarse, so I don’t recommend mixing them into soap. The bits of annatto might not feel pleasant on the skin. Instead, you can steep a small amount of the seeds (or ground annatto seeds) in a carrier oil, such as olive oil, then use the colored oil in your soap recipes.
Naturally Coloring Soap with Annatto Seeds
When making annatto soap, you replace part of the oil in a recipe with annatto-infused oil. Doing this gives you shades ranging from soft butter yellow to electric orange. The color range is dependent on the quality of the annatto seeds, the ratio of seeds to the carrier oil, how long you infused them together, and how much infused oil you use in your soap recipe.
That means the more potent the annatto-infused oil and how much you use will determine the final color. For example, using full-strength annatto-infused oil can give you a more vivid and darker color than oil that is only infused for a short while. The amount of annatto-infused oil in a recipe is important too. The more you use, the deeper the color will be.
One challenge to using a lot of annatto-infused oil to make orange soap is that the lather can turn yellow. It’s not a big deal if you’re using soap on your skin (in that it doesn’t dye your skin), but it can leave color on washcloths. To avoid having yellow lather from your soap, use no more than 15% annatto-infused oil in your soap recipes.
Make Orange Soap with Annatto Seeds
Of course, I’ve pushed the button with that percentage and have made stunning pumpkin orange soap using annatto seeds before. Annatto is used to make red Leicester cheese, and that’s another description of how orange your soap can get. I didn’t notice too much of a lather color difference in this batch, even though annatto-infused oil made up 25% of the recipe.
A little goes a long way with annatto-infused oil, and just a touch is enough to give you buttery yellows. I’ve found that a Tablespoon (13.3 g) of fully infused oil per pound of oil (base oils) is enough for soft to medium yellow. The colors you get may vary in intensity, though, depending on how you made your infused oil. That’s part of the fun and surprise of working with natural colorants!
Use Annatto Seeds to Make Infused Oil
To make an annatto soap recipe, you must first make annatto-infused oil. Though I’ve seen instructions in food recipes for infusing annatto seeds in water, I’ve had zero luck with this method. I’ve poured boiling water over the seeds and let them sit for hours with absolutely nothing happening. Oil is a different matter! Place seeds in liquid oil, and it will slowly turn yellow, then deep reddish-orange over a month. Wait even longer, and the color can get even more intense.
You don’t need to use a lot of seeds either. I use 1-3 tsp whole annatto seeds, or half of that of annatto seed powder, for every pound (454 g) of liquid oil, and that’s more than plenty. Olive oil is my carrier oil of choice since it’s already golden and has a long shelf-life. Once you make a batch of annatto-infused oil, you might only need a Tablespoon at a time to color soap! That means the rest lives in the cupboard for months or even over a year. Old oils can go rancid on the shelf or once made into soap and can cause DOS (dreaded orange spot) and a musty scent.
Annatto Infused Oil Recipe
Annatto infused oil is very easy to make, and there’s a slow method and a fast method. The slow method is better since no heat is involved, which means the oil will have a potentially longer shelf-life. Using indirect heat to warm the infused oil releases the golden color from the annatto seeds into oil much faster. Whichever process you choose will work and be perfect for this annatto soap recipe.
You’ll need a clean and dry jam or canning jar with a lid, the main liquid oil from a soap recipe (olive oil is what I use), and annatto seeds. For every 125 g (4.4 oz) of liquid oil, I use 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of annatto seeds. Place the seeds in the jar, fill with oil, seal tightly, and allow to infuse.
Slow-Infused Annatto Seed Oil
The best way to make annatto infused oil is to place the jar in a dark place and allow it to infuse for at least a month. A kitchen cupboard works well since the temperature will probably be room temperature to warm. You could also place the jar in a brown paper bag and then set it in a warm window. UV light from the sun can cause oil to go rancid but the paper bag helps to protect the oil while it benefits from the warmth.
Give it a shake whenever you remember, and over time you’ll see the oil gradually change to yellow at its lightest concentration to a deep reddish-orange at its highest.
The longer you can leave the oil and annatto seeds to infuse, the better. Some of the best annatto-infused oil I’ve made was close to a year old, and all it took was a teaspoon of it added at trace to create a buttery yellow batch of soap.
When you’re ready to use the oil, strain it from the seeds using a sieve and/or cheesecloth and use it to replace some of all of that particular oil in a soap recipe.
Fast-Infused Annatto Seed Oil
You can also use the hot infusion method to make annatto-infused oil if you’re short of time. Place the oil and seeds into the jar as described previously. Next, place the jar into a slow cooker filled with hot water, turn it on to high, and leave for four to six hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker (crock pot), you can use a sou vide. The ideal temperature of the water for making infused oil is 160-175°F (70-80°C).
The moderate and indirect heat of the water helps the annatto seeds to release their color a lot quicker than at lower temperatures.
Make Annatto Soap
Once you’ve made annatto infused oil, you can use all or part of it to make handmade soap. The recipe below shows you how to make a simple single-color batch. It’s an all-in method and the easiest way to make the recipe. However, you could reserve the annatto oil to add at trace. That way, you can control just how yellow your soap will be. Just remember to ensure that you make up whatever you don’t use in annatto-infused oil with non-infused oil.
If you wanted to make swirled soap, you could also use the add-at-trace method above for that part of the batch. Alternatively, you could create separate batches of naturally colored soap all at once and use each to make your swirls and patterns. Use this list of natural soap colorants to find inspiration for other colors.
Annatto Soap Recipe
- Glass jar with lid
- Stainless steel pan
- A bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- Measuring spoons (optional)
Liquid Soaping Oils
- 227 g Olive oil — partly made up with annatto-infused olive oil 8 oz / 50%
- 23 g Castor oil 0.81 oz / 5%
- 2 tsp May Chang (Litsea cubeba) essential oil optional — lemony-scented natural fragrance
Make the Annatto Infused Oil
- Make annatto infused oil as described above and decide how much you'd like to use in your recipe. This recipe has a large percentage of olive oil, and you can replace some of it with annatto-infused oil. Remember that infused oil with higher concentrations of annatto will give deeper colors. Using higher percentages of annatto infused oil in the recipe will give more color too. Ideally, annatto-infused oil can be used as up to 15% of your base oils. I recommend that you make a few soap batches with different amounts to see what you think.
Organize 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 rubber/latex gloves. Pre-measure all of your ingredients and ensure that your work surface is organized with all of the tools and equipment you'll need. Open a window for ventilation, close doors on pets and children, and have everything you need prepared.
Create the Lye Solution
- Work in a ventilated place – near an open window or outside– and ensure that your goggles and gloves are on. Pour the lye into the distilled water and stir well. Steam, fumes, and heat are the product of water and lye combining. Be prepared and don't breathe in the fumes. Place the steaming lye solution someplace safe to cool. I tend to set it in cold water in the sink.
Melt the Solid Oils
- Melt the solid oils on the lowest heat possible on your stove. When just a few pieces of solid oil are floating in the pan, turn off the heat and move the pan to a potholder. Stir with your spatula until all of the oils have fully melted.
Add the Liquid Oils
- Next, add the rest of the oils, including the annatto infused oil, into the pan of melted oils. Use the spatula to get as much of the oils in as possible — castor oil has a tendency to stick. Mix well and take the oil's temperature. You're aiming for 100-110°F (38-43°C).
Balance the Temperatures
- Next, measure the temperature of the lye solution. You want it to be around the same temperature as your pan of oils. The temperature doesn't have to be exact but within ten degrees of the oil's temperature is ideal. When the temperatures are within range, it's time to mix the lye solution with the oils. Gently pour the lye solution into the pan of warm oils.
Bring the Soap Ingredients to Trace
- Next, place the immersion 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.
- Bring the immersion blender to a stand-still in the center of your pan and then press pulse for a few seconds. Then stir gently again for a moment and repeat. Continue pulsing and stirring your soap batter until it hits a light trace. At this stage, the soap batter will be opaque and around the same thickness as warm pudding or custard.
Add Optional Soap Additives
- Working quickly, gently stir in the essential oil if you're using it. I've included may chang in this recipe because it has a gorgeous citrusy scent that I think goes well with the color. You could use another, though, or even an essential oil blend. You can also add other soap additives at this time. That includes dried calendula flower petals, which hold their yellow to orange color in soap.
Pour the Annatto Soap into the Mold
- Pour the pan of soap batter into your mold(s). Use your spatula to get as much of your soap out of the pan and into the mold. Settle the soap so that it has a flat top. You do this by gently shaking or tapping the mold. You could even decorate the tops if you wish now, with both texture and additives such as dried calendula petals. This is optional, though.
Gel the Annatto Soap
- When you've finished, take steps to ensure that the annatto soap gels. Gelling happens to soap when it is kept warm after pouring it into the mold. It doesn't affect the qualities of the soap, but it does intensify the color. Without gelling, this annatto soap recipe will give you softer and less vibrant shades of yellow and orange. With this step, the color will really pop!
- If your home is warm, you can do this by wrapping the mold with a towel making sure it doesn't touch the top of the soap. This insulation helps to initiate gel phase. If your home is on the cool side, you can oven process your soap. Preheat the oven to 170°F (75°C) and place the soap inside. Turn the oven off and leave the soap inside overnight. The next day, take the soap out and leave it somewhere safe for another day.
Unmold and Cut Your Soap Bars
- After two days have passed, you can take your annatto soap out of the mold(s). If you've used cavity molds, proceed to the next step. For loaves, you can now cut the soap slab into bars. Use a dedicated soap cutter or an ordinary kitchen knife for this step, and how you cut your bars is up to you.
Cure the Annatto Soap
- Now is the hard part — waiting for your soap to cure. Curing is a necessary step for all cold process soap, and it's a process that requires at least four weeks of waiting. The soap finishes saponification during the cure time, and excess water evaporates from the bars. Another thing that happens is that the crystalline structure of soap forms. The latter cannot be hurried up and is essential for a good, gentle soap.
- Cure your annatto soap recipe by placing the bars on a layer of grease-proof paper in an out-of-the-way place. It should be airy, out of direct sunlight, and away from curious pets and kiddos. Leave them there for a whole month before using the bars.
- Once made, your soap will have a shelf-life of up to two years. Shelf-life is dependant on the exact ingredients you used though — look on all of the backs of the bottles and the closest date is your soap's best by date.
Naturally Coloring Soap Yellow
This annatto soap recipe is one that you’ll get a lot of use from if you’re trying to naturally color soap golden shades of yellow and orange. It’s stunning, vivid, and lasts a long time. There are plenty of other yellow soap colorants to explore too! From carrot puree’s clean yellow to calendula flower petals’ golden yellow. Then there’s goldenrod, curry powder, rudbeckia, and curry powder! I’ve shared a few more yellow cold process soap recipes below:
- How to Make Carrot Soap
- Naturally Yellow Calendula Soap Recipe
- Pumpkin Spice Soap Recipe
- Daffodil Soap Recipe