Homemade Sazón Seasoning

By Ann Fulton

Homemade Sazón Seasoning – An easy-to-make alternative to the store-bought packets that eliminates MSG and lets you control the salt. Ideal for homemade chicken & rice, a variety of Latin dishes, and as a dry spice rub.
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Homemade Sazón Seasoning is an easy-to-make alternative to the store-bought packets that eliminates MSG and lets you control the salt. Ideal for homemade chicken & rice, a variety of Latin dishes, and as a dry spice rub.



Maria is a faithful and utterly delightful employee at my longtime gym, and over the years she’s taught me a lot about Latin cooking.  Our frequent conversations are just as likely to cover family happenings as they are how to make traditional sofrito. 

Many of Maria’s chicken and rice dishes incorporate a spice blend called sazón.  In Spanish, this word refers to “seasoning” or something that gives food “más sabor,” or more flavor. Some may also know it as the name of a commercial spice blend marketed by Goya.

Sazón gives Spanish and Latin rice dishes their traditional yellow color and signature flavor.  The store-bought packets are sold in a little box and are readily available in the Latin aisle of most grocery stores, but convenience sometimes has a downside.  In this case, the first two ingredients are MSG and salt.

I figured that while some of my readers might appreciate the expediency of the ready-made product, others would welcome a way to limit sodium and/or avoid MSG, the latter of which is an allergen for many people.

Thankfully for those in the latter group, there’s an easy, do-it-yourself alternative.

Homemade Sazón Seasoning – An easy-to-make alternative to the store-bought packets that eliminates MSG and lets you control the salt. Ideal for homemade chicken & rice, a variety of Latin dishes, and as a dry spice rub.

When I first considered the ingredients necessary to replicate traditional sazón, I learned that annatto seeds (which are ground into a spice powder and also known as achiote) are what create the traditional yellow color of the Latin rice.

I discovered two things when I first purchased annatto at The Herb Shop at Central Market.  First, it was necessary to buy the whole seeds, as the powdered form isn’t readily available.  Second, be prepared for those ruby-colored seeds to stain the spice grinder needed to pulverize them.

Wanting to be true to the recipe, I bought the seeds.  Figuring I’d avoid discoloring my white spice grinder, I dug out my seldom-used mortar and pestle.  The tiny seeds were impervious to my efforts, however, so I resorted to my grinder — which did turn a lovely shade of red!

Despite the fact that I ultimately ended up with a seasoning mix with flavor that rivaled the commercial brand, the process seemed rather cumbersome.  Further research revealed that paprika is a fine substitute for annatto. It’s easier to find, is already ground, and won’t discolor everything it touches.  Win-win-win!

A rice dish for which the paprika alternative is used won’t elicit the signature yellow hue, but it will taste virtually the same, as annatto’s flavor is quite mild.  Since the initial trials with annatto, I’ve consistently used paprika with great success.

Beyond her staple chicken and rice, Maria likes to use sazón as a multi-purpose seasoning, and I have done the same.  It’s an excellent spice rub for grilled chicken and will add something special to a simple skillet meal of sautéed chicken, peppers, and onions.

Sazón Grilled Chicken - This little spice packet (or the easy homemade option) adds incredible flavor when used as a rub for grilled chicken!

My family adores the chicken pictured above, ideally with a special (but incredibly easy) salsa dolloped on top. The combination is a perfect way to make use of sazón.  Labor Day weekend cookout anyone? 😎

Homemade Sazón Seasoning – An easy-to-make alternative to the store-bought packets that eliminates MSG and lets you control the salt. Ideal for homemade chicken & rice, a variety of Latin dishes, and as a dry spice rub.

I often use my recipe for Spanish Rice ⇩⇩ as a side dish for various Latin dishes.  I’ve also made a version that includes sazón, and it goes like this:
Sauté one small (or half a large) diced yellow onion in 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil.  Add 1/2 a diced bell pepper (color of choice) and optional minced small jalapeño (seeded to reduce heat).  Once softened, stir in 1 tablespoon of the sazón and one cup of rice.  Sauté to lightly toast, and then add 2 cups of water or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the rice is just tender and the water is absorbed.  Remove from the heat and rest, covered, for 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork, add salt and pepper to taste if cooking with water, and stir in an optional 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro.  You could also stir in sliced green olives, some diced tomatoes or salsa, beans (pigeon peas would be customary), or whatever else sounds good to you!

This versatile Spanish Rice recipe is bursting with flavor and can be prepped ahead for added ease at dinnertime!

Homemade Sazón Seasoning
Prep Time: 2 min
Total Time: 2 min
Yield: approximately 1/3 cup (1 store-bought packet = 1-1/2 teaspoons)
This easy-to-make alternative to the store-bought packets eliminates MSG and lets you control the salt. Ideal for homemade chicken & rice, a variety of Latin dishes, and as a dry spice rub.
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground annatto seeds (also called achiote; may substitute paprika*)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
  • 1 tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (1 tablespoon if using table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano and/or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Store in an airtight container.  One and a half teaspoons of this mix (which is the same as 1/2 tablespoon) is the equivalent of one packet of store-bought Sazón.  When using as a spice rub, use 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mix for every pound of meat.


*If using paprika in place of the ground annatto seeds, using half smoked paprika and half regular sweet paprika (i.e., 1/2 tablespoon each) adds a hint of smoky flavor.

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One more way to enjoy… Easy Sazón Chicken & Veggie Skillet Dinner:
➔ In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.  Sauté 1 small sliced onion until softened, and then add two seeded and sliced bell peppers (color or choice or a mix) and continue to cook until softened, sprinkling with salt and pepper.  Remove to a plate.
➔ Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and sauté 1 pound of chopped or sliced chicken breast meat that has been tossed with 1 tablespoon of sazón seasoning.  Cook until no longer pink in the middle, adding the veggie mix back in the final minute or two.
➔ Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lime juice and optional 2-3 sliced scallions and/or a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, tossing to incorporate.  Serve as is or with cooked rice, tortillas for wrapping, a side of cornbread, etc.  A dollop of guacamole or a scattering of chopped avocado is a nice option, too!
Yield: 3-4 servings

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  1. Susan Greenstone

    Thank you for the great idea for homemade sazon. But, after reading a package of sazon, I discovered one very important ingredient which is tumeric. It is my understanding tumeric contains cumin and it is tumeric that makes the rice yellow. I will try your suggestion and see how much flavor I could add.

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Susan, Cumin and turmeric are actually separate spices, although turmeric contains a polyphenol called curcumin, which sounds similar. The ingredients in my blend do turn the rice yellow (you can get an idea from this recipe for Spanish rice:
      https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/spanish-rice/), but you could absolutely add some turmeric as well.

  2. Kit

    I’m from PR n don’t like to use sazón bc of the msg. I do my own version similar to yours. For anatto(achiote) I used it in oil form that I add to the onions n garlic of dishes I’m cookin n then add the sazón mixture. 1 tbsp of oil is usually enough depending on quantity you are cooking. To make the oil, you boil on low heat the seeds with vegatable oil until they have expelled all their color. Don’t boil on high or they will burn. Use a strainer n pour the red now oil in a glass jar n saved on fridge.

    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you for mentioning your technique for making the oil, Kit. I hadn’t heard of that and it would provide a great alternative to grinding into a powder and allow for different uses.

  3. Jackie Colon

    Thank you for this sazon recipe my neurologist actually recommended that I stop using sazon due to the MSG. I was having unusual headaches and he said sazon contains MSG. So having an alternative will be great.

    1. Ann Post author

      Jackie, I am so happy to read your comment and am hopeful this recipe will provide a substitute that really works for you…and that there are no more headaches. Good luck and report back if inclined!

  4. Cheri

    So excited to find these recipes!! My daughter-in-law is from Puerto Rico. She is a WONDERFUL cook. Now I can try some of my favorites even tho they won’t taste like hers I’m going to give them a try. Thank you. ❤️

    1. Ann Post author

      I’m so glad you found this, too, Cheri. How fortunate to have a daughter-in-law who cooks amazing food for you. And who knows? Your creations might just taste a lot like hers!

  5. Kristin

    “Badia” brand Ground Annatto is actually readily available, at least in southeastern US. Have bought it at major chain groceries from FL to TX.

  6. Laura Post author

    I made this on Sunday and used following your sazon grilled chicken recipe. Absolutely delicious, beyond easy, and I’ve been enjoying the flavorful leftovers ever since!