By Janine Sjostrom
More than any other state in the nation, New Mexico knows how to turn up the heat. We’re not talking about weather. After all, Albuquerque summer highs, for example, average 15° cooler than the extreme heat one would find in Phoenix. We’re talking about New Mexico’s most treasured culinary ingredient… the humble, yet highly revered, chile.
You simply can’t go anywhere in New Mexico without having a “chile experience.” You’ll see red chiles strung together into ristras hanging inside and on the outside of homes and buildings. You’ll find chiles woven into the cuisine of nearly every restaurant in the state, with favorite menu items that include enchiladas, tamales, burritos, carne adovada, chile rellenos and the ever-popular green chile cheeseburger. And, of course, you’ll find chile-themed t-shirts, mugs, Christmas ornaments, table settings and so much more.
The truth is, New Mexicans love their chile. From adding red or green chile to one’s morning eggs and spreading chile jam on toast… to savoring chile-infused wine or tequilla in the evening… New Mexicans crave the heat and flavor. In fact, the most commonly-heard question in New Mexico may very well be “Red or green?”… a question waiters and waitresses repeat over and over again on a daily basis.
That passion for chiles may lie partly in the fact that chiles are mildly addictive, due to the capsaicin found in every strain of chile. The more capsaicin, the hotter the chile. And, the more one consumes, the more one’s tolerance and desire seem to grow. As one who moved to New Mexico from the Midwest, I can attest to that. I approached my first green chile cheeseburger with great trepidation. Thankfully, it was love at first bite, and now, I crave the flavor and heat of both red and green chile. If I were ever to move from New Mexico, which I can’t imagine doing, I would need a steady supply of chile. And not just any chile. Hatch chile.
Hatch, New Mexico, is the chile capital of the world… where chile fields extend for miles along the Rio Grande Valley. While Hatch is a year-round destination for locals and visitors, the village welcomes more than 30,000 guests every Labor Day weekend for the Hatch Chile Festival. The aroma of roasted green chile fills the air as visitors enjoy the booths, dancing, sampling, chile eating contests and more.
New Mexico’s love of chile is also evident in the two “chile trails” in the state. Residents and visitors can literally eat their way through New Mexico via the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and the Breakfast Burrito Byway. And if you want a first-hand experience in seeing just how crazy New Mexico is about chile, visit the annual National Fiery Foods & Barbeque Show held in Albuquerque in March.
New Mexico chile. Whether mild or with flame-throwing heat, this little culinary gem is treasured throughout New Mexico. A distant relative of eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes, green and red chiles are grown on the same plant. The only difference is that red chiles are harvested later than green. Packed with vitamins A and C, chiles can actually help burn calories, giving us just one more reason to love the lowly chile.
Want to learn more about New Mexico’s chile? Visit the The Chile Pepper Institute online or in person. The institute is the only international, non-profit organization dedicated to education and research related to all things chile, and offers a plethora of fascinating chile information.