With green chile season well under way, many people are rushing to grocery stores and roadside stands to stock up on New Mexico’s favorite fruit (yes, chile is considered a fruit).
Although many people associate Hatch with all New Mexican green chile, Hatch green chile does not refer to any one chile pepper variety, causing purchases of green chile to be inconsistent in heat, flavor and size. In fact, some chile labeled Hatch is actually grown in Mexico.
Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and NMSU Regents professor, recommends that consumers should instead ask for green chile labeled NuMex. Those chiles are developed by researchers at New Mexico State University for the best in flavor components and specific heat levels, from mild to hot. In fact, the institute uses the slogan, “All the best is NuMex.”
“One thing people have to realize is chiles have different flavors and heat levels,” Bosland said. “We always like to tell people that it’s kind of like when you go to the store to get apples. Many different apples have different flavors. Green chile is the same way.”
Bosland said NuMex green chiles have been developed over the past couple of decades to have the best flavor.
“Growers were telling us that the chiles now out there produce lots of fruit and have good disease resistance, but they don’t have that traditional green chile flavor,” Bosland said.
That kind of feedback from growers led researchers to redevelop the NuMex 6-4 breed of chile as the NuMex Heritage 6-4, and the New Mexico Big Jim chile as NuMex Big Jim.
“They have five to six times the flavor as the standard green chile that you see out on the roadside,” Bosland said.
Researchers also developed NuMex Sandia Select with a higher heat level than the NuMex Heritage 6-4 and the NuMex Big Jim. The Sandia chile was originally developed for red chile, with a thin wall that lends itself to drying and grinding into powder.
“The growers again asked us if we could make a thick-walled Sandia so it could be used as a green chile, and so we did,” Bosland said.
NuMex chiles are available at several well-known distributors such as Hatch Chile Express and Biad Chili Mesilla, where it is available dehydrated.
“They just have better flavor (compared to other chiles), that’s the biggest difference,” said Chris Biad, partner at Biad Chili Mesilla. “The other ones just don’t even come close. We’ve been selling chile for close to 60 years, and I wouldn’t use anything else.”
Danise Coon, an NMSU senior research specialist who works with the Chile Breeding Program, said it is important to listen to industry demands in order to keep New Mexico chile growers competitive on a worldwide basis.
“We listen to the demand, we listen to what’s changing in the industry and we try to stay ahead of industry needs,” Coon said. “We do that by developing varieties and cultivars with higher yields, disease resistance and more flavor compounds.”
The NMSU Chile Pepper Institute, located on the second floor of Gerald Thomas Hall on campus, sells frozen green chiles and seed varieties year round. For more information, visit https://cpi.nmsu.edu, or call 575-646-3028.