How to Make Achuete Ink

(transcript for audio recording)

Before you begin, you will need:
50 grams of dried achuete seeds
1 litre of a strong clear alcohol, such as Everclear
two one-litre bottles with screw-on lids
a funnel
several paper filters

Step 1

Measure out 50 grams of achuete seeds, and place inside one of the bottles. Measure out a litre of alcohol, and add this to the seeds in the bottle. Screw-on the bottle cap, and agitate. Be rigorous about this; shake the bottle for 5 minutes if you can. Turn the bottle upside-down and right-side up and over again. Listen for the rattle of the hard little seeds scuttling against the ridged plastic, and the gentle sloshing of the liquid inside the bottle. Imagine the achuetes’ first ocean voyage from Acapulco to Manila.

Step 2

Allow mixture to rest and steep in the bottle for an hour.

Step 3

Line the funnel with a paper filter, and set this inside the second bottle. Uncap the bottle of alcohol and seeds. By now, the alcohol has extracted some pigment from the achuete, and inside you will find an intensely orange liquid. Very carefully, pour this into the funnel. It will take some time to filter the entire litre, perhaps an hour. The perfume of the achuete extract is quite pleasant however, as is the sound of the ink dripping into the bottle.

Step 4

Once the filtration is complete, study the strained out seeds sitting in the paper filter. You will notice that there is a great deal of powdery red pigment still adhering firmly to the surface of the achuete. Return these to the mixing bottle and discretely dispose of the used filter. Stopper your new bottle of achuete ink, and admire what you’ve produced.

Step 5 (optional)

Should you wish to intensify the colour of the ink, you may pour this back into the mixing bottle as well, and repeat the extraction process as many times as necessary to produce an ink with the desired concentration.

Indeed, with repeated extractions the seeds prove to have more and more pigment to offer. It is unclear see how many rounds of extraction are necessary to extract all the pigment from a dose of achuete seeds, but to date the supply appears endless. Further testing is required to answer this, however bear in mind that answers make ink less beautiful.

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