NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Chile is a common staple found in many New Mexican dishes. From the classic chile relleno to putting green chile on burgers and in pasta, New Mexicans have created new ways to incorporate both red and green chile into their diet.
Around late August through September, the smell of chile usually fills the air outside of grocery stores as people take part in the chile roasting season. “New Mexico is really the hub of chile in the United States and even in North America,” said Travis Day, the executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association.
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KRQE News 13 spoke with Day about the types of chile grown in New Mexico and how they differ. He said the following list of chiles are the most common ones known to consumers and referred to information about chiles gathered by New Mexico State University.
Common chile varieties grown in New Mexico:
New Mexico 6-4
In 1957, ‘New Mexico No. 6’ was modified, made less hot, and renamed New Mexico 6-4, according to New Mexico State University (NMSU). New Mexico 6-4 is considered mild with 300-500 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
NuMex Joe E. Parker
NuMex Joe E. Parker was released in 1990. NMSU research shows there are no significant differences between New Mexico 6-4 and NuMex Joe E. Parker for heat levels. NuMex Joe E. Parker is considered mild at around 800 SHU.
NuMex Big Jim
NuMex Big Jim is has a slightly higher heat level than New Mexico 6-4 at around 500-2,000 SHU. According to NMSU, NuMex Big Jim’s heat levels vary from plant to plant, with some plants producing mild pods and others producing hot pods.
In 1956, Sandia A was released and later changed to Sandia in 1967 by the New Mexico Crop Improvement Association. Sandia is considered hot at 1,500-2,000 SHU and NMSU said that it is popular with home gardeners.
*Chile heat levels listed in this story are averages that can vary by year and growing location. See NMSU’s research report here.
Chile peppers thrive all over New Mexico
Day said chile peppers thrive in New Mexico because of the climate and soil type found in the state. Peppers can be found growing all over the state. “As we move down south, you see a lot more of the production varieties, the Machetes, the Big Jims, and as you move up north, you see a lot more of the Sandias that don’t have maybe that as high of yield, and then you get in the Chimayo area and they have a specific heritage variety of Chimayo chiles, it’s a lot smaller but a lot more taste packed into it,” said Day.
NMSU researches and develops new chile varieties based on consumer demand and to help pepper plants continue to thrive. Day said NMSU has helped create pepper plants, including the ones listed above, that allow for higher yield and some of which are disease and drought tolerant.
Examples of chile developed at NMSU
NuMex Heritage Big Jim
The NuMex Heritage Big Jim was developed with the intent to have a higher yield, uniform heat level, improved fruit qualities, easy de-stemming, and a traditional flavor. NuMex Heritage Big Jim has a heat level between 7,000 and 9,000 SHU and is more consistent and hotter than NuMex Big Jim, according to NMSU.
NuMex Sandia Select
New Mexico green chile growers requested an improved Sandia that had a thicker-walled green pod with a relatively high heat level and increased yield. The NMSU chile breeding program as a result created NuMex Sandia Select which has a heat level of 9,500 SHU, hotter than the original Sandia.
Common chile misconception
Day said one common misconception people have about chile is thinking that there is a variety called Hatch green chile. “When people hear hatch chile, they think that’s a chile variety and it’s actually not. Hatch chile is really just the area that it’s grown and it’s grown in the Hatch Valley,” Day explained.
When it comes to the most popular New Mexico chile, Day said the Big Jim chile is common and the Barker variety is popular among people who like it hot. “It really comes down to consumer demand,” Day stated.
Chile outside of New Mexico
While chile can be found all over the state of New Mexico, a majority of chile produced in the state is shipped out of state and used in other products “Ninety percent of our product here in New Mexico goes to the value-added side, so your salsas, your powders, etcetera, and the other eight percent is sold on the fresh market. And you know it’s those that you can find at the grocery stores, on the side of the roads here in New Mexico,” Day said.
Day said shoppers can look for the New Mexico Certified Chile logo on products to know that they are getting real chile grown in New Mexico. The label can be found on sacks of chile, salsa jars, seasonings, and more as long as the product contains chile from New Mexico.
If you’re planning a visit to New Mexico to indulge in the wide variety of chile, be prepared to answer the question: red or green?