The Chile Pepper Institute states that in addition to chile being a $240 million dollar industry, New Mexico is the nation’s premier producer of hot chile peppers. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chile that produces heat to the nerve endings. The heat releases endorphins, that act as natural opiates in the human body. Many people claim that this sensation is addicting and that’s why they continue to crave chile. The more capsaicin the hotter the pepper. The chile industry uses Scoville units to quantify the capsaicin heat level of each pepper. Wilbur Lincoln Scoville created the measurement of heat units in peppers. He was an American pharmacist working for Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical company when he devised the Scoville Organoleptic Test in 1912, the year New Mexico became the 47th state.
There are three types of New Mexico chile: green, pintado and red, each one has its own distinctive flavor. Chile Pintado, which means painted chile in Spanish, is plentiful toward the end of the harvest in late September. When the green chile begins to ripen it turns reddish-orange.. Green chile is primarily eaten fresh with a portion frozen for later consumption. Virtually all of the red chile is processed. The growing season is longer in southern New Mexico where the temperature stays hotter longer, so seventy-five percent of the state’s chile comes from Doña Ana, Luna and Hidalgo counties.
The Father of Chile
In 1921 New Mexico’s chile industry transformed when Dr. Fabian Garcia, a pioneer horticulturist at New Mexico State University, bred several stains of the Mexican pasilla pepper that became a commercial success. Garcia became the father of New Mexico chile, when he developed and introduced a milder, meatier chile that was perfect for roasting.