Annatto vs. Red Palm Oil

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Notorious Lyear
Jan 14, 2021
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Collecting thoughts on obtaining lovely warm yellow and orange colours with either of these two.

Red palm oil advantages:
  • If you add palm oil to your soap anyway, you can just replace (part of) it by the red, unrefined variety = no added colourants (not even natural ones) for your sporting ambitions and/or clean-label bragging
  • Use as-is, no preparation needed (except melting/mixing/portioning in advance)
  • Fair shelf life
  • High in vitamin E (tocopherol/tocotrienol) content, possibly assisting efforts against rancidity
  • Also good for cooking (Welcome, West African cuisine!)
Annatto advantages:
  • Leach the colourants into whatever oil you'll add anyway. In particular, it doesn't sabotage palm-free recipes.
  • Easier to (over)dose. Deeper orange-red tones are accessible without completely disturbing the recipe.
  • Odourless at typical dosage
  • Has quite some vitamin E too? On the quick, I couldn't find conclusive numbers if relevant tocotrienol extraction takes place.
  • Also good for cooking (food colourant and/or spice)

I don't want to play both off against each other. In fact they're closely related in their carotene/carotenoid nature, hence they share a similar hue, and anecdotally how badly they discolour tools, lather, skin and wastewater, and at which rate their colour fades over time (?).

Anyway, I know that both have their loyal supporters. Let's share our enthusiasm with each other!
I haven't use annato yet (Been sitting in my spice cabinet since 2019 lol) but I've used red palm.
I used 25% red palm for my carrot soap. I did use carrot juice as liquid and added some carrot powder, so that might affected the color a little.
It was redder than I expected as fresh soap, but, I just looked at my soap drawer where I kept a sample of the said soap, it was yellower and paler than when it's fresh, but the overall orange color is still pretty strong, so I'd say it stood up to the fading test.
Red palm is quite expensive here (three times of regular palm) so I probably won't use it again soon, but I liked it.
I have used both annatto and palm oil, but to a lesser extent in the case of the palm oil.

When I added 4g annatto powder directly to the 1lb CP batter, its initially warm dark reddish orange colour had faded almost entirely when I checked again about 2 years afterwards (in Jan 2021). Unsure whether the baseoils make a difference. However, the base oils in that case in order were white palm oil, coconut oil, EVOO and sunflower oil.

Only very recently (1 month ago), I used gentle heat to infuse 1 part annatto whole seed into 1 part cheapest baseoil, which is usually Sunflower in my case. Afterwards, I poured the oil along with the seeds back into a bottle so that I could shake the bottle every now and then (see image below). However, what you see in this clear / colourless / transparent bottle now is what has remained after I used some oil without removing the seeds and then topping up with oil again. The orange part of the swirled soap pictured below is a combination of that sunflower oil to boost the already orange colour from turmeric powder @ 2tbsp ppo in the 100% of the batter.


Unfortunately, I have less experience with palm oil. The very small batter I made with it was used before 2 years. However, I suspect it would have outlasted the annatto.

Have you considered combining them, especially if you are in a location where palm oil is prohibitively expensive? My newbie guesstimation is that, if you want more of a red colour, ie versus the orange that I achieved in this 1-month old soap after combining annatto with an already very bright orange turmeric batter, you might prefer to infuse the annatto to an entire master batch of the red part of your soap (ie versus only 1 relatively low percentage oil of the entire batch as in my case).

Furthermore, if you are concerned with losing oil, I suggest the whole seeds over the powder. I infused 1 annatto to 11 EVOO and found powder harder to manage because you need to strain it (to remove the black bits that are inside of annatto powder that I get locally). Seeds are bigger and easier to manager. They can be strained and then spooned back into the bottle much easier. In case you are wondering; the equally pretty annatto-infused EVOO at 5% ppo entirely lost its colour when added to a soap whose entire batter had a puree from a green leaf. That bright soap shows absolutely no hint of red.


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About four months ago, I got some red palm oil from an Asian store (about 4€ for 500 g? I don't remember exactly, but it wasn't prohibitively expensive). I made a 100% soap from it, and tbf I'm partly disappointed, partly just puzzled what happened to it. I made 1 (in words: one) batter and split it over these small silicone moulds and a PP container. Stored at a dark place at room temperature since then, see yourself what happened to them. The silicone cubes stayed bright orange, but the colour of the bulk block nearly vanished. Not only at the surface, but throughout the whole block! It still smells fresh and like palm oil should smell like, but this leaves me with question marks about colour longevity and its predictability.
What had been happening? I can only wildly guess; the only thing came up with is a runaway pro-oxidation mediated by tocopherol, that for some reason was more likely to happen in a soap cast into a PP mould than a silicone mould. Anyway, these bad bois are going to be rebatched anyway, and I'll keep you updated.

ETA: I came up with one difference between the two shapes: the shape. It's CP, but with the power of palm oil to speed up trace and heat up the reaction, the large brick (ca. 150 g) probably underwent at least partial gel, while the small cubes didn't.
→ Working hypothesis: Gelling impairs the shelf life of palm oil colour.
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I've never used annatto but have used Red Palm in a few of my recipes. This one is 35% with TD in the lighter part. No other colorants.


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Sea buckthorn oil soap just made yesterday. Nice color.


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how much did you use? I like it a lot but use it in facial products only so far.