The pod in this picture is an unripe one — annatto (Bixa orellana) seeds and their pods are a brownish red colour when fully ripe. We caught a glimpse of a few trees with ripe pods while riding on buses in Barbados but I was never able to get up close to pods that were fully mature. It’s a shame really, because a tree full of ripe fruit is a beautiful sight.
I first heard about annatto many years ago in reference to Cuban cooking. In fact, I bought a package of the seeds about 10 years ago and never had occasion to use it. I believe the package is still sitting unopened in my kitchen spice cupboard!
That’s because while the seeds do have a slightly peppery taste and flavour, their use is really more about adding colour to food. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t ever use it because I have since learned that annatto is a common allergen… and I have a lot of allergies.
Annatto makes an excellent cloth or wool dye. I found a good tutorial on the process here.