The Seed Hack To Give Béchamel Sauce A Vibrant, Appealing Color

Béchamel is one of four sauces that French chef Marie-Antoine Carême called the mother sauces of French cuisine in his book "L'art de la Cuisine Française au Dix-Neuvième Siecle." The list was revised by Auguste Escoffier to include a fifth sauce, Hollandaise. Together, Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and tomato sauce have reigned as the five French mother sauces ever since.

Béchamel and its siblings act as building blocks from which hundreds of secondary sauces can be created. Béchamel sauce starts with a roux, made from equal parts of fat and flour, to which warm milk is whisked until the mixture thickens into a creamy sauce. The white Béchamel is then built upon to make sauces for dishes like mac and cheese, lasagna, and soufflés.

With only three ingredients, Béchamel is already a relatively simple sauce to master, but chefs have ample tips to make this sauce even better. For example, brown butter and toasted nutmeg make Béchamel more luxurious, a dash of mustard will cut its richness with acidity, and herbs add layers of flavor. According to Tyler Akin, the chef and partner of Delaware-based French brasserie Le Cavalier, there's even a way to add some color to this otherwise plain, white sauce. His trick? Use milk steeped with annatto seeds.

Annatto seeds create a vibrant orange Béchamel sauce

Annatto seeds come from achiote trees native to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The red seeds have long been used in parts of Latin America for culinary purposes, as well as a natural food dye and medicine. While the seeds themselves are a shade of reddish-orange, the colors they impart range from yellow to darker shades of orange.

It may seem like annatto seeds are an unusual addition to a French mother sauce but it's estimated that nearly 70% of the natural dyes used in food comes from annatto seeds (via Healthline). The seeds are not only used in dishes like arroz con pollo, but annatto seeds are also what give several packaged foods and drinks, including margarine, butter, and even cheddar cheese — which would otherwise be a pale beige — their yellow hue.

Annatto seeds add a pop of color to any food which, according to Chef Tyler Akin, is what makes them a wonderful addition to a Béchamel sauce that's going to be used in something like mac and cheese, where the seeds' color can make the dish more vibrant (via Food & Wine). To use annatto seeds in a Béchamel sauce, Akin suggests steeping the seeds in the milk you plan to whisk into the roux. After you whisk in the orange-red colored milk, you'll create a more visually appealing Béchamel sauce that can be used however you choose.