Annatto (a.k.a: bija, bixa, achiote) is one of the oldest natural food colorant known today.
Annatto is produced from the seeds of the achiote tree. Achiote tree is indigenous to the American continent and it is said to have been used by native Indians throughout Latin America for medicinal use.
Achiote seeds produce color (annatto) when mixed with hot water or hot oil. In the Latin American and the Caribbean cuisine, annatto is used as a food colorant and as a flavoring agent; Adding a hint of sweetness and a peppery-like flavor.
Annatto oil or colorant is used to give yellow rice its color, to add color to soups, cheeses, fish, and etc.
Annatto seeds are relatively easy to find and very affordable.
Saffron is another ancient natural food colorant. It is characterized by a bitter taste and a hay-like fragrance. Saffron is native to Spain, yet it grows well in dry but well-watered soil.
Saffron blooms within a narrow window of 1-2 weeks. It is during this window that the flowers need to be collected to prevent crop loss due to wilting. It takes about 150,000 flowers just to make about 2lbs. This explains its very high price, about $500 per lb.
Because of its high price saffron is considered a gourmet spice used by gourmet chefs around the world.