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The Savory Spice That Gives Puerto Rican Food Its Signature Golden Color

Mar 15, 2023

While the Spanish word "sabor" describes the spicy, sweet, sour, and salty combinations in a dish, Puerto Ricans often refer to the sazón. Although that word might also mean flavor, sazón is usually a seasoning blend that not only adds depth to a dish, but it enhances the recipe's color. It might not be as vibrant as the setting sun, but this signature golden color is a feast for the eyes and the palate.

In an interview with Today Food, Puerto Rican food writer and cook Illyanna Maisonet said that sazón embodies the country's food in "identity, history, comfort and (the) familiar." While brands like Goya offer their own spice blend, the basic version is a combination of annatto, cumin, coriander, garlic, oregano, and pepper. Variations on the foundation can be found as well. Some Puerto Rican cooks use the spice blend like other cooks would use seasoned salt.

The sazón's signature color comes from the annatto. The seeds from the Bixa orellana tree are ground to make the spice's bold hue. Although the color is saturated, the flavor is not spicy. The savory note is more delicate. From adding a punch of color to rice to rounding out the flavors in a soup, sazón might be the colorful, approachable spice of life.

Whether making a classic Puerto Rican dish or looking to add a burst of color to the plate, sazón is a staple in many Latino recipes. For cooks looking to experiment with this spice blend, they can either buy the pre-packaged spice blend or make their own seasoning. Choosing one over the other comes down to personal preference. One of the widely available store-bought options is from Goya. The brand has several options, including a lower sodium and saffron option. In addition, the food company offers a wide variety of recipes featuring the classic flavor enhancer. From a simple chicken recipe to robust beef stews, cooks can become more familiar with using the spice blend in these dishes.

For cooks who prefer more control over the specific ingredients in the sazón, creating it from scratch is not overly difficult. Also, a homemade version can avoid the added MSG. The seasoned salt blend combines a variety of spices, like garlic, cumin, and ground annatto seed. Although the latter ingredient might not be as readily available, it is not like searching for saffron on a grocery store shelf. By making the sazón, the cook controls the flavor. From eliminating cumin to adding more garlic, the customization can better suit certain recipes. Whether it is adding a touch more black pepper for a pork dish or more coriander in a chicken dish, the variations are many. Instead of adding another bottle to the spice rack, pull several items and make sazón from scratch.

While sazón might be the Puerto Rican version of Landry's Seasoned Salt, the more vibrant collection of spices brings a more robust flavor to the cooking. For classic Latin-inspired dishes or to add a little flare to a traditional recipe, a little sprinkle can make a difference. Beyond the vermillion hues in a rice dish or even a stew, there are other ways to use this spice blend. For example, sazón can be the flavoring for the meat filling in an empanada. The cumin, garlic, and ground annatto seed can be the contrast to the flaky pastry surrounding the filling. Building on the Latin slant, this spice blend can change the approach to a burrito, taco, and more.

Stepping outside of some traditional Latin dishes, a little sprinkling on some grilled vegetables could have people hungry to enjoy another serving. Keeping those vegetables from being bland, it can be the bridge to get the picky eaters to scoop up another serving. Or, it can be a rub for that pork tenderloin that hits the grill. When a dish needs a little extra boost of flavor, it's time to put down the simple salt and pepper. Sazón hits all the taste profiles and captures the sabor that people are craving.