Sazón is a versatile spice blend used in Latin American cooking—it is the principal flavor (and coloring) in recipes such as arroz amarillo (yellow rice), pollo de coco (chicken with coconut milk), and arroz con pollo (rice with chicken).
The primary spices of a classic homemade sazón spice mix are achiote or annatto, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic, onion, oregano, and black pepper. Some variations also use turmeric, paprika, or saffron. The flavor profile is garlicky, but not fiery. Achiote or annatto has a sweet and peppery taste. Freshly ground coriander adds a lovely citrus aroma. Sazón’s savory flavors stem from the cumin, onion, and garlic powder. Its mild astringency comes from oregano.
It is a versatile spice blend, used as a rub prior to grilling, frying, or baking proteins such as fish, steaks, pork, and chicken. Sprinkle it in soups or stews, add it to beans and rice, or use it in place of any recipe that calls for taco seasoning.
Our classic homemade sazón spice mix recipe makes about 1/2 cup of spice blend or 8 tablespoons. This will be enough to use in a few dishes before you need to make more.
Feel free to adjust the proportions of sazón to your tastes: You can increase or decrease the amount of salt, garlic, annatto to fit your tastebuds.
What are Annatto or Achiote Seeds?
The words annatto or achiote are used interchangeably—the seeds are most commonly used as a food dye and seasoning. The seeds hail from a tropical tree with roots in Latin America and you can find annatto as whole seeds, used in a ground spice mix, as a paste, or an oil.
Did you know it's annatto that gives some dairy spreads like butter and margarine, Cheddar cheese, some custards, cakes, and other baked goods their color? Without annatto, many of the foods we know would actually be quite pale.
Can You Swap Annatto or Achiote Seeds?
Specialty grocery stores or online shops carry annatto/achiote seeds or powder. But if you can’t find annatto/achiote near you, there are a few swaps that will work: Consider swapping achiote for saffron, turmeric, or paprika instead. These substitutes will give your sazón its deep red hue.
If using one of these swaps, the flavor profile of your sazón will change slightly. Saffron has a sweet, floral, and earthy taste. Turmeric is also earthy and musky, a tad bitter, and peppery. Depending on what type of paprika you use (sweet, smoky, or hot), your sazón could have a sweeter or subtle smoky flavor—or some fiery spice.
How to Use Sazón
In addition to using sazón as a rub, marinade, and flavoring for proteins, soups, stews, beans, and rice, you can find it in traditional Latin American recipes such as Puerto Rican Salmorejo, Pastelón, and Asopao de Camarones y Gandules.
How to Store Sazón
Store sazón in a cool, dark place at room temperature in an airtight container. If properly stored, sazón can last for up to one year.
More Savory Spice Mix Recipes
- Dukkah Spice Blend
- Basic Pickling Spice Blend
- The Best Dry Rub for Steak
- The Best Dry Rub for Chicken
- The Best Dry Rub for Ribs
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons achiote (annatto) seeds
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grind cumin, coriander, and achiote seeds:
You can grind the spices using an electric spice grinder, blender, food processor, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle.
If using an electric spice grinder or coffee grinder: Fill the spice grinder with cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and achiote seeds (be careful to not overfill past the max amount indicated). Process for 10-25 seconds, until your spices resemble a fine powder, with little to no large chunks.
If using a mortar and pestle: Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and achiote seeds to the mortar. Crush the spices with firm pressure and continue grinding until you reach the desired texture.
Make the spice mix:
In a medium bowl, combine the ground cumin, ground coriander, ground achiote, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift spices over a large bowl to extract any large particles or spice husks that didn’t get fully processed.
Funnel sazón into a container and cover tightly. Store sazón in a cool, dark place at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one year.