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  • Writer's pictureElise

Cook Book Club: August's ingredients are Achiote Powder & Cumin. The country: Bolivia!

This year we are doing things a little differently. Instead of simply an ingredient, we are highlighting entire cultures. Kits will include a little bit about the country of focus, a recipe that is native to the country, and a unique ingredient or two from that recipe. All recipes are from writers native to the country covered. I'll post the recipes and information here as well, so let's get cooking!


A Quick Look at Bolivian History

Adapted from various online travel & history resources

You might be surprised to discover how many everyday foods we consume originate in Bolivia. The potato was first domesticated there 8000 years ago (Europe didn't get their hands on it until the mid-/late-1500s), and quinoa 4000 years ago. Peppers, as you may know, originated nearby and also form an important part of the area's culinary history.

It is believed that the indigenous people of the region originally came over from India around 12,000 BCE as hunter/gatherers of many different tribes, but later evolved as various empires rose and fell from roughly 1400BCE onwards. The region became part of the Chavin, the Tiahuanco (which rivaled the architecture of ancient Egypt), the Inca, and, in 1531, the Spanish. This was mostly a non-issue until silver was discovered in hills, skyrocketing Spain into a financial monolith and conscripting indigenous peoples in the millions to work the mines in what would equate to a death sentence. The Bolivian people wouldn't gain independence from Spain until 1824 but internal strife and disparity wouldn't allow full democracy until 1982.

Because of this, culture and cuisine is heavily affected by both Spanish and indigenous influences as well as some African influences as well.

Importance of Cumin

Adapted from various native online travel & food resources

Cumin is one of the oldest spices in existence, having been cultivated since the 3rd millennia. Much like it is believed of the South American people, cumin originated in India. However, while the ancestors of South America's indigenous population migrated to the Americas 14,000 years ago, cumin didn't make it here until the Spanish and Portuguese colonists arrived in the 1600s.

That being said, it has become an integral part of many South American cuisine cultures. Its warmth and slight kick, though not complex on their own, has a layered flavor when added to other dishes. Chefs often use cumin to accentuate the sweetness of root vegetables, like carrots and beets (and has a faint and slight sweet undertone), as well as adding complexity to vegetarian dishes, from vegetable and bean stews to grilled tofu. Although with South America being the origin of the pepper, Latin cuisine is not known for being very bland, cumin can add a not-so-subtle, though relatively mild, kick to any dish it is added to.

Importance of Achiote Powder

Adapted from various online travel, health & food resources

Achiote has the opposite migration pattern of cumin. Instead of coming to the Americas, it originated in our tropics and traveled to India and then Europe and took the world somewhat by subtle force. Today achiote (aka annatto) is used everywhere. Not only is it a spice in many Latin American and East Indian recipes, it is also a popular natural food dye, among other things.

Achiote is slightly peppery and nutty but many find that once it is turned into a food dye, it has very little flavor in and of itself. Yet nearly any time you have consumed yellow butter or cheese, the coloring is achieved at least in significant part by use of these ground seeds. Generally, if used as a spice, it is more likely to be used to add layers and depth to a dish than as a focal point in and of itself.

As with many spices, many homeopathic uses exist as well as beauty and, due to its natural capacity for adding color, art.


The Main Event

Bolivian Crema de Choclo

(Creamy Corn Soup/Chowder)

As translated & adapted from Recipes of Bolivia for use by the Brown Deer Cookbook Club


  • 4 ears corn

  • 9 oz beef

  • 3 potatoes

  • 1 onion

  • 2 carrots

  • 1 turnip

  • ½ cup green peas

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 2 tablespoons of ground chili pepper or achiote

  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

  • 1 tablespoon minced mint

  • 2 cups milk, divided

  • 1 ½ cup Water

  • Oil

  • salt and cumin


  1. Shell the corn and blend the grains with a cup of milk in a blender or food processor. Set aside.

  2. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces and the carrots, potatoes, onions and turnip into cubes. Set aside.

  3. In a frying pan, add a little oil and fry the onion with the meat, peas, carrots and turnip. Season with salt, minced garlic, cumin, mint and chili pepper.

  4. In a pot, bring water to boiling, add meat and vegetables and cook for 15 minutes.

  5. Add the liquefied corn cream and cook for about 30 minutes continuously stirring.

  6. Add the potatoes, the remaining milk and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste.

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