Hatching a Pepper Myth

Hatching a Pepper Myth
Photo by Robb Walsh

It's green chile season, that wonderful time of the year when other people roast your chiles for you. Roasting green chiles and removing the skin is a pain in the ass, so I buy a bunch of green chiles while the roasters are working and put the cleaned peppers in the freezer. Personally, I think poblanos are more flavorful than New Mexican green chiles, but nobody is offering to roast my poblanos for me.

Hatch, New Mexico is the most famous appellation for green chiles. Central Market is holding a Hatch chile fest at the moment. You can buy Hatch chile popcorn, Hatch chile tortillas, and Hatch chile hamburger buns if you like. Enjoy the Hatch hoopla, but take those brand-name chile peppers with a grain of salt.

"There is no such thing as a Hatch chile, despite all the hype about them," according to Dave DeWitt, one of the nation's foremost authorities on chile peppers and the author of scads of books on the subject. Don't get him wrong, Dave loves New Mexican long green chiles and is pleased to see the roasting tradition spreading to Texas. It's the Hatch name that he warns consumers about.

Hatch isn't the name of a pepper variety, it's the name of a place. Yes peppers are grown in Hatch, New Mexico, but they aren't any better than chiles from neighboring towns. And there is no way tiny Hatch produces all the chiles that get sold under that name. Farmers from other parts of New Mexico and other states including Arizona ship green chiles to Hatch to be resold. Some Hatch chile producers are reportedly shipping seeds to Mexico and having the chiles grown south of the border, where water and labor are cheaper.

By all means, stash lots of roasted green chiles away this year, just don't pay a premium for Hatch peppers.


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