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12 Chile Pepper Facts

If you're from New Mexico, it's likely you have a few drops of chile roaming around in your blood. It's the state vegetable, and no other state has a question like ours, which asks, "Red or green?"

Chile is to New Mexico...

Courtesy Aileen O'Catherine

what apples are to Washington, potatoes are to Idaho, peaches to Georgia, or oranges to Florida.

Chile is New Mexico's heart and soul. 

How much do we grow?


New Mexicans eat more chile per capita than any other group in the U.S. Most of the state's chile is grown in Luna and Dona Ana counties, with the rest grown in Sandoval, Rio Arriba, Bernalillo, Socorro, Sierra, Chaves, Lea, Eddy and Hidalgo counties. 

In 2012, 77,780 tons of chiles were grown here.

New Mexico's chile is in peril

Courtesy Chile Pepper Institute

The acreage for New Mexico's chile crop has gone down 75% from its peak of 35,000 acres in 1992. As of 2010, only 8,800 acres of chile were grown in the state.

Even though chile is increasingly being eaten across the U.S., 82% of it comes from Peru, Mexico, India and China. 

Oleoresin, a substance made from the capsaicin found in chiles, accounts for 30% of the chile crop acreage in New Mexico. However, China is trying to take over this market.

What you can do:

Eat New Mexico grown chile, and check the labels of foods to ensure it really was grown in the state.

Ask restaurants if they're using chile grown in the state. If not, insist that they do if they want your business.

Ask your grocer, and food producers for New Mexico chile.

New Mexico has a chile advertising act

that went into effect in July, 2012. The New Mexico Chile Law prohibits vendors from claiming that their fresh chile products were grown in the state unless they truly were.

Products can no longer claim they are from New Mexico in their titles or labels when they are from somewhere else. 

So a "New Mexico Chile" label on a bag of dried chiles that were grown in South America and are found on a grocery shelf in Florida is now against the law.

Scoville Heat Units

The Scoville scale measures the amount of heat in chile peppers and other spicy foods. A Scoville Heat Unit (SHU), is a function of the amount of capsaicin present. The higher the number, the greater the spicy heat.

Antidotes to hot pepper hands

Sometimes we forget to wear gloves when chopping up a hot jalapeno or chile pepper, and we're left with a burn that can last for hours. Worst of all is the thought of taking out contact lenses with hot pepper fingers.

To get rid of the capsaicin oil from the peppers, remember that it's oil, not water based, so washing your hands in soap and water won't help. Adding olive oil or another oil to your hands will help dilute the capsaicin oil. Rub the oil on your hands and fingers for a few minutes, then wash with an oil cutting soap or dish soap like Dawn.

Another trick is to used milk or some kind of milk product like yogurt, butter or sour cream. The casein in dairy products acts as a kind of detergent.

Fingernail polish is made of acetone, so rubbing some on a cotton ball to remove the capsaicin oil is another method.

Vinegar also cuts the oil.

Hottest Pepper in the World

The smaller the pepper, the hotter it is likely to be. The world's most potent peppers are all under three inches long.

For 2014, the Guinness World Record dethroned the Moruga Scorpion, which comes in at 1,009,231 SHU.

The Carolina Reaper clocks in at 2,200,000 SHU, making it the new world record holder. The pepper was bred for flavor as well as heat and is one of the sweeter of the hottest. 

The Carolina Reaper has a tail, much like a scorpion stinger. It is grown in South Carolina by the Puckerbutt Pepper Company.

What is it like to eat an intensely hot chile?

Your nose will run. Sweat and drooling are par for the course. It can be painful to breathe. Your taste buds will disappear, probably for a few hours. Your ears will burn. Stomach cramps will likely ensue hours later. Sometimes vomiting can occur. And the next day...well, you can imagine.

Watch as Leo and his friend Paul eat a dried Naga Viper, which weighs in at 1,349,000 (SHU).

Antidotes to hot pepper mouth

Sometimes what we've eaten is just too hot. Cut the heat by eating a little sour cream, or by swishing milk around your mouth and spitting it out. Swish more milk around your mouth as many times as it takes for the taste to dissipate. Or have a little ice cream.

The casein in dairy helps neutralize the capsaicin oils.

Pepper Spray

The peppers used in standard pepper spray are HOT. They register at more than 2 million SHUs.

Why Chile Causes Hiccups

When peppers are chewed and capsaicin is released into the mouth, the substance creates a burning sensation. This enters the lungs and disrupts the diaphragm, which begins to contract and relax in order to expel the pungent air, resulting in hiccups.  

Chile Pepper Institute

The New Mexico Chile Pepper Institute is dedicated to education and research about our state vegetable. Located at New Mexico State, it builds upon the work done by the horticulturist Fabian Garcia, who is considered the father of the chile pepper industry.