“Red or Green Chile?” While dining out in New Mexico, the waiter will almost certainly inquire if you prefer red or green sauce. It’s the official state question!
This choice might be straightforward or challenging, depending on your familiarity with the two chiles. Allow us to guide you through this most New Mexico of decisions.
Red vs. Green Chiles – The Distinctive Factors
The primary differences between these two colors of chiles lie in their maturity and spiciness. Green chiles, if left to mature on the plant, will eventually turn red. Red chiles, known for their sweetness and increased heat, are more mature and contain higher levels of capsaicin, the compound responsible for their spiciness.
However, it’s not a given that every green chile will mature into a red one, nor will all chiles transform into the same variety of red chile. In New Mexico, ‘green chile pepper’ generally denotes those harvested in Hatch, located in the state’s southern region. On the other hand, ‘red chile peppers’ often refer to the Chimayó variety, cultivated in and around the Chimayó area in northern New Mexico. These two chiles are distinct varieties of the Capsicum annuum species.
Hatch Chile Peppers
Hatch, located in New Mexico, offers an ideal setting for cultivating chile peppers. Its notable high altitude, warm days paired with cool evenings, and rich volcanic soil, once part of the Rio Grande River’s floodplain, combine to foster an environment ideal for growing distinctively flavored chile peppers. These factors have contributed to the fame of Hatch and its signature chiles.
Commonly, Hatch chiles are picked in their green state. During the autumn season in New Mexico, as these chiles are harvested, the scent of them being roasted wafts through the air. In some instances, Hatch chiles are left to mature into vibrant red chiles, which are then hung to dry on ristras and naturally dried under the eaves of traditional adobe houses. Nevertheless, in New Mexico, the most prized red chiles are those from Chimayó.
You can order Chimayó chile powder or crushed peppers anytime from Performance Maintenance Incorporated.
Contact Performance Maintenance Incorporated to help you determine the right cleaning products for your specific work environment.
Chimayó Chile Peppers
Travel approximately 275 miles north of Hatch, and you’ll arrive at the small village of Chimayó. With a population just over 3,000, this village is renowned for cultivating one of the world’s most distinctive chile peppers. The unique combination of climatic conditions, fertile soil, and the pristine waters from the snowmelt of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains contributes to the ideal growing environment for Chimayó chiles. Interestingly, if you plant seeds from these chiles elsewhere, the peppers they produce won’t have the same flavor profile as those grown in Chimayó.
The dry terrain at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains yields chiles that are sun-dried, acquiring a wrinkled appearance. In contrast to the typically green-harvested Hatch chiles, Chimayó chiles are left to fully ripen and are often hung to dry on ristras. They are known for their complex taste, which includes an earthy base, a hint of smokiness, and an unexpected touch of sweetness, making them unique among chiles.
For over 400 years, families in Chimayó have been carefully handing down their cherished chile seeds through generations. This tradition has given rise to what is known as landrace chiles — chiles that are inherently linked to their specific geographical region. The cultivation of Chimayó chiles is limited to roughly 500 acres, making them a rare find, particularly beyond the borders of New Mexico.
To qualify as genuine Chimayó chiles, the seeds must originate from Chimayó and also be cultivated in the same region. The limited production of these chiles each year contributes to their higher cost. However, the silver lining is that chile powder made from these chiles can last quite a while, and small quantities are generally available for purchase.
A great place to get Chimayó chile powder or crushed Chimayó peppers is from Performance Maintenance Incorporated.
Red or Green — Which is Hotter?
The spiciness of a chile is gauged using the Scoville scale. On this scale, Chimayó chile peppers register between 4,000 to 6,000 units, categorizing them as moderately hot. In contrast, Hatch chiles typically range from 1,500 to 2,500 units. For comparison, a bell pepper sits near zero on the scale, while a habanero pepper spikes at 200,000 to 350,000 units. Therefore, both Hatch and Chimayó chiles offer a pleasant level of heat without overwhelming the taste buds, making them ideal for dishes like enchilada sauce.
It’s important to note that Hatch chiles are not the only variety of green chile. Jalapeño and Serrano peppers, also commonly harvested in their green state, can be significantly spicier than the standard Hatch green chile varieties. Some types of chiles grouped under the Hatch label may even reach the heat levels of a habanero. Thus, choosing between red or green chiles isn’t always a simple decision.
However, restaurants aim to please, not to scorch your palate. If you’re uncertain about the heat level, servers are typically knowledgeable and can guide you. Moreover, most eateries are happy to provide small samples of each sauce type, allowing guests to make an informed choice.
How to Answer the Red or Green Question
The option of red or green sauces on menus may vary depending on your location within New Mexico. In the southern regions, Hatch chiles are predominantly featured, whereas the northern parts are more likely to offer dishes with red Chimayó chiles. If deciding between red or green poses a dilemma, there’s always the choice of “Christmas” enchiladas, which delightfully combine both red and green sauces.
Wherever you live, you can order Chimayó peppers or ground powder from Performance Maintenance Incorporated anytime.