Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu Recipe

Simple to make, this lemon achiote grilled tofu recipe gets a nice tangy backbone from and achiote and cayenne-spiked marinade made with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a bit of brown sugar.

Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu

A mouthful to pronounce, but relatively simple to make, this lemon achiote grilled tofu recipe is a favorite of mine this time of year - meaning the time of year we pretend there's a real grilling season in San Francisco. All I need is a jacket (or a ten minute break in the wind and fog), and we're in business. I'll be back from South America in a few days, and wrote this up before I left, the beautiful brick-colored hue you see on the tofu comes from using achiote powder in the marinade. It gives the tofu a deep, rich, earthy flavor profile, making it a crowd-pleaser with vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I'll grill up a bunch of this tofu and use it as a component in rice bowls or grain salads, thinly sliced in sandwiches, or even cubed into "croutons" in soup. The marinade gets a nice tangy backbone from cayenne-spiked, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and is rounded out with a bit of brown sugar.

Pronounced ah-chee-oh-tay, our title ingredient is available as a powder (or paste) made from ground annatto seeds. It seems like many in-the-know cooks who tire of chipotle, graduate to achiote. I use achiote powder and not the achiote paste. Two of the pastes I've found use red dye and preservatives (interesting because annatto is often used as a coloring agent). The pastes are also made with other ingredients like vinegar, and garlic, whereas the powder is simply ground annatto. Let me know if you know a brand of paste that you like that is all-natural, I haven't seen one - but to be fair, I haven't tried very hard.

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Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu Recipe

Look for achiote powder in Mexican markets.

2 tablespoons achiote powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar (or brown sugar)
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 big pinches of salt
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
12 ounce package of extra firm tofu, cut into 4 slabs

Whisk together achiote powder, cayenne pepper and sugar. Sprinkle the salt over the garlic, smash it with your knife, and mince it into a paste. Add this to the achiote mixture along with the lemon juice. Whisk until combined.

Place the tofu into an 8x8 baking dish and pour the achiote marinade over the tofu - flip it, flop it....make sure you get coverage on all sides. I rub the marinade into the tofu a bit. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour, if I remember I'll flip the tofu once or twice along the way.

Place the tofu on a medium hot grill. Brush the top of each piece of tofu with some of the leftover achiote marinade, grill until the tofu is golden on the bottom with nice grill marks (rotate the tofu 90 degrees halfway through the grilling of each side to get those nice marks). Flip, cook the other side, brush the side facing up with more leftover marinade, and cook until the bottom is golden as well. Remove and serve over a salad, on a bun with all the fixings, or any other way you can think of .

Serves 4.

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I found a great and simple achiote paste recipe from Aliza Green on Chow here: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10554 It's simple and full of wonderful flavors that can be kept stocked in a little mason jar. Now I'll have to try it on my next block of tofu!

White On Rice Couple

i like Tofu! so healthy! yummy@

YOYO's Cooking

To..Happy Little Clouds... the nameless cook in the UK is me. Lord knows why the title came up as "Said" but it did. Not the worlds best on the puter. thanks a lot for your information, much appreciated. I am often put off recipes I see on here because of the unusual ingredients, which is a total shame because they look so amazing. Might give this one a try now. Thankyou. Love the name by the way, cheered me up to see that.

Jenny Mac

I haven't cooked with tofu, however your picture really looks good. Maybe I will be adventurous and give it a try.

Phils Grill

I'm living in Mexico right now, so it makes perfect sense to try this out (thank you CostCo for the tofu). My only question is how would you change the recipe if you were using the paste? I've not seen the powder here, though I'm sure if I looked harder I'd find it. I do have the paste already in my fridge. Still use the two tablespoons of paste?

Ryan Hawkes

To UK and others -- try an asian market or, NY, try Puerto Rican markets. Online - Penzeys (sp?), mexgrocer, etc. Grill problems and don't have grill pan? Try punctured, oiled foil over grill grate (Oiling after laying on grill to press a bit between the grates to get the grill marks.).


I too, have been looking for an all-natural achiote paste without artificial color or preservatives, but so far haven't been able to find one, so this weekend I'm going to make my own, using a recipe from Rick Bayless. Will report back! Love your blog and recipes by the way. I made the spaghetti with harissa last night and it was yummy!

Soup and Song

To the person whose tofu is falling apart: Use extra-firm tofu. Proper prep of the tofu is crucial. Freeze it solid, then thaw it, cut it in slices and press all the water out with a clean towel. You will have a much firmer product (it will now look darker and spongy-- that's normal) and the tiny air bubbles formed by the ice crystals will soak up the yummy marinade nicely. I think this method is crucial when you are using tofu as a meat replacement. Many tofu naysayers can be converted into tofu lovers this way too. (Obviously you would not want to do it for other recipes where you need a smooth texture.)

Ms. A

To the nameless cook in the UK: I'm an American living in the UK and some of the ingredients that are on here are just as difficult to find in the US as they are in the UK! ;-) You can pick up achiote paste at mexgrocer.co.uk for £2 and the seeds are £1.69 for 50g. A lot of the other ingredients I've seen on here are available at theasiancookshop.co.uk and natural food stores. Hope that helps!

happy little clouds

Whoa! good job. You have a lot of ideas. Keep it coming. www.foodista.com


Just a warning. A friend of mine is very allergic to peanuts, and that allergy extends to annato in all it's forms (it's used as a coloring agent in some orange cheeses and other foods). Personally, I love the stuff. I too am a proud omnivore.


Another option besides achiote paste and powders is to buy whole annatto seeds. I have a five pound bag in my freezer that I'm constantly dipping into, mainly for my Puerco Pibil. They're easy to find online, and if coffee and spices are more flavorful when freshly ground, I figure it follows that annatto is as well.

Ali Martin

Or as croutons? That is a fabulous idea! I am constantly impressed by your creativity.


I didn't think that tofu could look so delicious and appealing. This will make a great addition to my South Beach Diet reparatoire when I am looking for something different!

Deborah Dowd

my family has used achiote for years. puerto ricans use this ingredient for flavor and color in arroz con gandules, pasteles, marinades for pork, chicken, beef and it's divine in seafood recipes. one of the bloggers asked how to grill the tofu without it sticking, therefore compromising the presentation. you can use the seed form in addition to the powder by heating a small amount of vegetable oil on the stove on a very low setting, add the seeds (while the oil is cold), bringing it to a simmer. the essence and color is extracted from the achiote giving the oil a slightly roasted flavor that would add another layer of taste. the oil can then be used to marinate the tofu, thus solving the problem of your product sticking to the grill grate. i hope this was helpful.


heather - keep bringing the grilled tofu recipes! this looks so delicious. i also really super loved your carmelized tofu and brussel sprouts. i can cook anything from your site and know that i will please a crowd. thanks!


This sounds great. My son buys grilled tofu at the grocery store and it is expensive. I am going to show him this one. He loves it spicy and who know maybe my Mexican boyfriend will eat tofu if season with a spice he is so familar with! Did I tell you your Zuchinni bread is the bomb! The curry and ginger are the best in this traditional sweet bread.

Mpls Lisa

Yum! I reckon a lot of the sucess of these kinds of tofu marinades is in the sugar; it works so well at boosting the flavour and making the tofu look appetizing (I love your carmelized tofu recipe with the brussels sprouts too)


Thanks as always. I love tofu, but the skin sticks to grill or pan(unless it is coated & added oil when cooking), making a messy presentation....How do you grill it so pretty without even using oil?? Please share the secret with me!


i only heard about achiote powder recently from a friend who grew up in southern california- those types of ingredients can be hard to find in the northeast, even here in NYC. i've never tried it on tofu, but i can't wait to.


What a yuppieish dish! All I need now to complete the yuppie image is a lattecino, a feng shui consultant, a Kabbalah priest and a personal lifestyle guru.

Graeme Phillips

I adore tofu! Thanks for the heads up about achiote powder. I'll never get sick of chipotle considering its rarity where I live, so I'll just add achiote to my pantry and make it a win win!

Lucy V

What is Achiote powder made of

Nilesh Shah

This looks delicious! And very beautiful, I can't wait to try out the paste too, it's the first I've hear of achiote.


I was so worried we'd be completely Heidi-less while you were away in South America, so thank you for giving us something to tide us over 'til you get back! That being said, this looks amazing... something different to do with tofu (like Jen, I'm a proud omnivore but LOVE tofu), and I've been trying to figure out different ways to use achiote as well. Can't wait to try this!


The recipe sounds great, and I love tofu, but I havbe a terrible time grilling it. Last time I tried most of it ended up crumbling and falling between the grates, and I ended up with nothing for dinner! We are talking an outside BBQ grill, right? Or do I need to invest in a grill pan? Any help here would be most appreciated.


Funny comment, Sudi -- but I disagree. Tofu is so versatile and wonderful, when prepared well. Heidi, this grilled version sounds and looks delicious.


Tofu has to be the world's worst ingredient. I would rather eat whale meat.... And I never plan to eat whale meat.


I have been purchasing my own annatto seeds and making my own powder. All you need is a small coffee grinder. (Spices only, you don't want to taint your coffee) It's cheaper than the pastes and powders as well. Depending on your locale, you can usually find them in the Latin food section at your grocery store. BADIA is the brand I normally buy. Nice to see someone raising awareness on this earthy seed. Maybe it will make them even easier to find in the future. Be warned though...achiote powder does NOT wash out. So if you are a kitchen clutz like me, don't wear anything that you aren't afraid of staining! :D


I found this paste (on amazon!) which does not have added coloring: El Yucateco Achiote Red Paste I'm not sure if it is "all natural" though...


This looks absolutely fantastic. I've only used annatto seeds to make achiote oil for a couple of chicken-and-rice dishes, but I'll definitely bookmark this recipe and give it a try soon.

Amy at Minimally Invasive

I am so excited to have a new and very different marinade to try for tofu. Thanks for this recipe and keep these great vegan recipes coming!


That looks so delicious, and I'm even not a huge tofu fan. They seem so crunchy with a nice bite. mmm I've got to try and look for the achiote powder. I love how your recipes send me for the search after interesting ingredients.:)


Oh wow that looks good. I can't wait to try this. We grill pretty much 365 days a year here in Georgia, even during that one week in January when it might snow. LOL. I think we're just grill fanatics, so I can't wait to try this tofu recipe. I'll post how it turns out on my blog if anyone's interested. I was craving tofu last night so this just might be dinner tonight!

Life Chef

I use tofu to make scrambled eggs, but never think of grilling it. The dish looks really good with some rice and veggies.

Kim (ayankeeinasouthernkitchen)

Oh Dear..another ingredient that we don't have here in the UK. Haven't herd of this one either. I take it that it is a spicy mexican flavour? I wonder if smoky paprika would do?


we don't have the powder around here. we do have the annato seeds in our markets and we usually soak them in water to get the color. if i were to use the seeds, how would i go about it in this recipe?


I love your cumin-yogurt grilled tofu and this looks like another great way to grill tofu! I've never heard of achiote powder, so next time I stop by the Mexican grocery store I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Catherine Melton

I love your cumin-yogurt grilled tofu and this looks like another great way to grill tofu! I've never heard of achiote powder, so next time I stop by the Mexican grocery store I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Catherine Melton

Wow Heidi! I see you have a new recipe using my favorite....achiote. I have been using this on chicken, pork, and seafood for many years now, learning to cook with it in the Yucatan. This tofu recipe looks yummy. Need to try it right away. For those unfamilar with achiote, is is also known as Annato Seed. You should try to get it powdered(Badia makes it), or as a paste in a Mexican grocery. Thanks for the great recipes always coming my way.


this looks delicious! I love tofu (this coming from an omnivore), and am always looking for interesting ways to prepare it. I feel like most of the recipes I see for tofu get stuck in pan-asian / asian-fusion rut, so I'm happy to see your unique take here. and a question -- does achiote powder have the same smokiness as chipotle?

Jen (Modern Beet)

wow looks great! I think i'd like it in a Rice bowl MMMMMMM


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