Brick-red, spice-packed achiote paste is an essential part of Latin American cuisine, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, but it also shows up in the Philippines. It’s made from the crimson-­colored seeds of the achiote tree (also known as annatto), which are ground, then mixed with a blend of seasonings, including cumin, black pepper, coriander, oregano, cloves and garlic. With its earthy, sweet, spicy and smoky notes, achiote paste can be used in rice dishes, as a marinade or sauce, or as a rub for meat, chicken and fish.

Though it may look potent, the taste of achiote paste can be surprisingly subtle. In fact, it’s used as much for color as it is for flavor. It’s the ingredient that lends a characteristic red-orange hue to dishes such as tacos al pastor, cochinita pibil and the Mexican grilled fish recipe pescado zarandeado.

If you can get your hands on achiote seeds, you can make the paste yourself. But reliably good achiote paste can be found in the international section of many supermarkets or in Latin American grocery stores. Though sometimes available in jars, it typically is sold in small blocks. This pre-made paste has surprising longevity—it keeps for up to a few months if stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.