Chimayó and Hatch — A Taste of 2 Peppers

While dining out in New Mexico, you might be asked by the server if you prefer red or green sauce. This question can be straightforward or challenging, depending on your familiarity with New Mexico’s cuisine. We’re here to assist. It usually means choosing a sauce made with either Hatch or Chimayó chile peppers.

Red or Green Chiles — What’s the difference?

The primary distinctions between the two, aside from their colors, are maturity and spiciness. Green peppers, if left on the plant, mature and eventually become red. Red peppers are both sweeter and spicier, offering a unique taste experience, due to their longer ripening period and increased production of capsaicin, the compound responsible for their heat.

However, allowing a green chile to mature into a red chile doesn’t imply that all chile peppers are the same or that they transform into identical red chiles. In New Mexico, “green chile pepper” typically denotes those cultivated in Hatch, located in the state’s southern region. Conversely, “red chile peppers” are often Chimayó peppers, cultivated near the town of Chimayó in the north. These are distinct varieties of the same species, Capsicum annuum.

Hatch Chile Peppers

Hatch, New Mexico, boasts ideal conditions for cultivating chile peppers. Its high altitude, warm days paired with cool nights, and nutrient-rich volcanic soil, once a riverbed of the Rio Grande, combine to nurture chile peppers with a distinct flavor, elevating Hatch and its signature chiles to fame.

In Hatch, chiles are usually picked while they’re still green. Throughout New Mexico, during the fall harvest, the scent of these roasting chiles wafts through the air. Occasionally, Hatch chiles are left to mature into vibrant red chiles, which are then strung on ristras and naturally dried under the eaves of adobe houses.

Yet, in New Mexico, the most prized red chiles are the Chimayó chile peppers.

You can order Chimayó chile powder or crushed peppers anytime from Performance Maintenance Incorporated (PMI).

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Chimayó Chile Peppers

Travel approximately 275 miles north from Hatch, and you’ll reach Chimayó, a small village with just over 3,000 inhabitants, known for its exceptional chile peppers. The unique combination of local weather, fertile soil, and the pristine water from the snowmelt of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains contributes to the distinct taste of Chimayó chiles. Seeds from these chiles, if grown elsewhere, won’t produce peppers with the same flavor as those cultivated in Chimayó.

The semi-arid region at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains yields chiles that naturally dry in the sun, developing a wrinkled appearance. Unlike Hatch chiles, which are typically picked green, Chimayó chiles are left to fully ripen and are often strung on ristras to dry. They are known for their complex taste profile, featuring earthy notes, a hint of smokiness, and a touch of sweetness, which is rare in chiles.

Read about five great reasons to go green here.

For over four centuries, Chimayó chile seeds have been passed down from generation to generation. These chiles are considered landrace, meaning they are uniquely adapted to their native environment. With only about 500 acres devoted to their cultivation, Chimayó chiles are scarce and often hard to find outside New Mexico.

To be genuine Chimayó chiles, the seeds must originate and be grown in Chimayó. Due to their limited annual production, these chiles can be expensive. However, the upside is that chile powder made from these peppers goes a long way, and smaller amounts are generally available for purchase.

A great place to get Chimayó chile powder or crushed Chimayó peppers is from Performance Maintenance Incorporated (PMI).

Red or Green — Which is Hotter?Performance Maintenance chimayo

The spiciness of a chile pepper is gauged using the Scoville scale. Chimayó chiles have a rating of about 4,000 to 6,000 Scoville units, placing them in the medium heat category. In comparison, Hatch chiles register between 1,500 and 2,500 units on this scale.

For context, a bell pepper scores nearly zero, while a habanero pepper ranges from 200,000 to 350,000 units. Thus, neither Hatch nor Chimayó chiles are extremely hot, but they both contribute a pleasant level of heat to dishes like enchilada sauce.

It’s important to note that Hatch chiles are not the sole variety of green chile peppers. Jalapeño and Serrano peppers, also typically harvested green, can be significantly hotter than the common varieties of Hatch green peppers. Furthermore, some chiles labeled as Hatch can be as fiery as habanero peppers. Therefore, the choice between red or green chiles can be more complex than it seems.

However, restaurants don’t aim to scorch your taste buds. If you’re uncertain about the spiciness of the sauces, servers can usually clarify which is hotter. Most eateries are also willing to provide a small tasting sample of each sauce type.

How to Answer the Red or Green Question

The option between red or green sauces on a menu often varies based on your location within New Mexico. In the southern regions, Hatch chiles are predominantly used, whereas the northern areas of the state feature Chimayó red chiles more prominently in their dishes. If you’re indecisive about choosing red or green, there’s always the possibility of selecting ‘Christmas’ enchiladas, which allow you to enjoy both red and green sauces.

Wherever you live, you can order Chimayó peppers or ground powder from Performance Maintenance Incorporated (PMI) anytime.

Story Sponsored by Performance Maintenance Incorporated (PMI)

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