In a Puerto Rican household, sazón, much like adóbo and sofrito, is a foundational seasoning mix used to enhance the flavor of nearly every savory dish. In addition to being jam-packed with earthy and umami flavors, sazón is most commonly used in the kitchen to impart a vibrant orange color to dishes like pollo guisado (stewed chicken), rice with pigeon peas, and habichuelas (stewed beans). In fact, its color payoff is so strong that my grandmother used to scare me with warnings that my fingers would stay orange forever if they ever came in contact with packaged seasoning blend.
One of the reasons why the color is nearly fluorescent in store-bought sazón is because it contains artificial dyes, like Red 40 and Yellow 5. In an effort to be more conscious about what I consume, I began searching for homemade sazón alternatives that omit the artificial dyes and cut back on the substantial sodium levels found in the packaged variety. I quickly came to learn that this classic seasoning blend is easier to make at home than I had anticipated, and keeps for a long time in an air-tight glass jar. On top of that, it still gives off a beautiful pigment thanks to naturally colorful spices such as achiote (annatto) and turmeric.
While there are quite a few varieties of sazón flavors available for purchase, the one that my abuela always used featured ‘achiote y culantro.’ Annatto (or achiote) is a spice derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Full achiote seeds look like small red pebbles and can be ground into a powder to give dishes a unique peppery flavor and helps give sazón its orange glow. If you cannot find annatto powder, you can replace it with paprika (although the flavor won’t be exactly the same). Culantro, on the other hand, is an herb related to cilantro. Because it is easier to find dried cilantro than dried culantro, this recipe utilizes the former.
If your ingredients vary in grain coarseness like mine, you can make a more homogenous mixture by blending the “big” ingredients — like salt and ground cilantro — together in a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. If you are unable to grind them down, just combine all the spices together as is. Once your sazón is made, store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months and make sure to shake the jar well before each use.
The basic ratio for this blend, is 4 parts salt, 2 parts garlic powder, 1.5 parts onion powder, 1 part annatto, 1 part cumin, .5 parts coriander, and .25 parts turmeric. If you’re looking to make a large batch to distribute to family and friends measure everything out in cups. For smaller portions equivalent to about a month, tablespoons will do just fine. The ingredients listed make up the most classic blend of sazón, but don’t be afraid to experiment by adding or omitting certain ingredients to find your preferred flavor profile.
For one packet’s worth of seasoning, use 1 1/2 teaspoon of sazón
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon ground annatto
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro
3/4 teaspoon (equivalent to 1/4 tablespoon) turmeric
- Using a mortar and pestle or an electric coffee grinder, grind down the salt and dried cilantro.
- Add the remaining spices and mix well until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Pour into an airtight container and story in a dark, cool place.
- Side Dishes
- 1/2 cup of seasoning
- Total Time
- 4 minutes, 59 seconds