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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Food and drink biodiversity:

Food dyes

Bixa orellana (Annatto tree or Lipstick tree)

Indigenous to tropical America. Produces seeds that contain an orange-red dye called annatto, which is used for colouring foods such as cheese, butter, smoked fish and salad oils. Trees are cultivated in tropical regions round the world. With the banning of synthetic dyes (because of their carcenogenic properties), natural dyes such as annatto have assumed greater importance. The orange-red colour is caused by a carotenoid pigment called bixin. Annatto is the original dye used for body paint by American Indians.


Carthamus tinctorius (Safflower)

A thistle-like herb with yellow flower heads that originates from the Middle East. It has been cultivated since ancient times and is not known from nature. The original main reason for its cultivation was that the dried flowers yielded a valuable red dye containing the pigment carthamine, which was used to colour cloth. Synthetic aniline dyes have now taken over. However, dried flowers are used as a substitute for saffron to colour and flavour rice dishes. Nowadays Safflower is cultivated mainly to produce edible oil from the seed-like fruits.