Hatch chile pepper is the generic name given to varieties of peppers that are grown and harvested in the region of Hatch Valley, New Mexico. Hatch is the Chile Capital of the World. The peppers must be grown in this region for it to be authentically called as such. However, some people refer to these peppers as any type of pepper grown in New Mexico. Still, all New Mexican peppers, including Hatch chiles, owe their genetic base from the cultivars that Fabian Garcia first developed in 1894. Garcia’s an American horticulturist from the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, which is now known as the New Mexico State University. Nevertheless, the studies and cultivar development continues up to date at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico.
Moreover, although Hatch peppers have many varieties, they provide a legendary taste that comes from their terroir. Hatch Valley is a mountainous area with a very rich soil. Thus, their peppers have an earthy flavor with heat that ranges between 1,000 to 8,000 Scoville Units. When roasted, these peppers boast a meaty, smoky, and buttery-like flavor that most people would travel far to experience.
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Genus: Capsicum L. (Pepper)
Species: Capsicum Annuum L.
Binomial Name: Capsicum Annuum ‘New Mexico Group’
Hatch Chile Pepper Trivia
- The Hatch Valley in New Mexico celebrates the annual Hatch Chile Festival on the weekends of Labor Day. Amazingly, the event can easily draw up to 30,000 people from different parts of the world to the small town of less than 2,000 residents. The festival boasts cook-offs and Hatch roasting.
- In 2012, legislators passed a law that prohibits the sale of chile peppers with the “New Mexican” label unless they are grown in New Mexico. Otherwise, a disclaimer label of “Not Grown in New Mexico” should be displayed in the product.
- Hatch chile peppers are used to make teas and lozenges to treat sore throats.
- The capsaicin chemical found in these peppers are used to make muscle patches to treat aching and sore muscles.
Hatch Chile Pepper Buying Guide
Buying Hatch peppers is like buying a champagne. Unless it is planted, grown, and harvested in its hometown, it cannot be called as such. There was even a time when Hatch peppers were almost impossible to find outside New Mexico. But, high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods Market changed that situation. Now, you can find these peppers throughout the United States, but expect them to be in a short supply as there is only a small window of its season and availability. Hence, if you find some of these peppers outside its season or throughout the year, make sure to double-check their origin, as some aren’t grown from the same region. As mentioned above, hatch peppers must come from Hatch, New Mexico for it to be authentic. Otherwise, it should be labeled as “Not Grown in New Mexico.” These products are often marketed under the name of the town it was cultivated, and they are usually sold fresh-roasted nationwide in the late summer and early fall. Still, they can never provide the same meaty, buttery, and smoky flavor that only the rich soil and mountainous temperatures of Hatch can provide. Hence, going back to the relevance of buying Champagne, everything else is just sparkling wine.
When you found the authentic ones, it’s now a matter of choosing the best ones. Thus, look for peppers that are considerably heavy with a bright green color and symmetrical shape. If you’re not a fan of heat, pick out the mild varieties, which you can easily confirm through their labels. All peppers are less spicy when unripe, which is commonly green in color. However, since Hatch chiles have several varieties, it is possible that a red variety is milder than a green one. Still, it is important to keep in mind that even though unripe peppers are less spicy, it is also more pungent and less sweet. As soon as you’ve decided on which variety, check the pepper’s size and buy the ones that fall between 4 and 6 inches long. Then, check their skin and choose the ones that are firm, smooth, dry, and glossy. Avoid the ones that have soft spots or shriveled. If possible, buy organic gypsy peppers during its season. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
As always, peppers from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to taste them before you buy them.
Hatch Chile Pepper Production & Farming in Texas
While the label “Hatch peppers” has to be exclusively grown in Hatch Valley, New Mexico, you may also grow them in other parts of the world. These peppers thrive in a hot climate. They will die in frost. Here in the United States, they grow well in regions 5 to 11. But in most areas like Texas, you would have to start the seeds indoors and grow until the last frost is done and the soil has warmed up in a sunny location. The soil should be retained at 80-90ºF for the germination to succeed. As soon as the seeds have sprouted, you can transfer them under grow lights or in a window area facing the sun, so that they can keep their strength until it’s time to plant them. Moreover, these plants usually take around 85 days to be ready for harvest. Though you can harvest it sooner (within 4-8 weeks), the immature the pepper is, the less flavor, sweet, and heat it will provide.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA. However, this list doesn’t rank peppers. But, since they tested positive on pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain, they’ve created their Dirty Dozen Plus™ list instead and included these peppers.
Between the years 2010 and 2012, the USDA found oxamyl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos in peppers. These toxic pesticides are banned from use on some crops. However, they’re still permitted to be used on chile peppers. Thus, it is better to buy organic peppers to reduce your pesticide consumption. If they’re unavailable or too expensive, we suggest you cook the conventional ones instead before eating them as heating these peppers can reduce the levels of pesticides. Or better yet, consider growing your own peppers organically.
As mentioned, Hatch chile peppers must be grown in the Hatch Valley for it to be called as such. This area stretches north and south along the Rio Grande from Arrey, New Mexico, to the north of Tonuco Mountain, to the southeast of Hatch. These areas have soil and growing conditions that provide a unique terroir that contributes to the main flavor of Hatch peppers.
Fresh hatch peppers are commonly sold and priced by weight, either by the pound or kilogram. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to a trusted origin-producer, and you can get these peppers in bushels, cartons, and even crates. You can also pre-order them ahead of time, and you can also get them frozen. Pickled, roasted, or other byproducts of hatch peppers are available year-round and you may purchase them in cans, mason jars, bottles, and plastic containers.
Enjoying Hatch Chile Peppers
Hatch chilies are wonderful to be eaten raw. They make a refreshing addition to salsas, ceviches, and more. However, due to their thick walls that offer so much flavor potential when cooked, they are often roasted. Not to mention that considering their short availability, roasting prolongs their shelf life too! Furthermore, it can hold its shape when stuffed with meat and/or cheese. They also work well on chili Rellenos.
All fresh peppers are best kept unwashed, in a sealable and airtight container lined with paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, they will retain their freshness for 1-2 weeks. You may also marinate peppers in olive oil to extend its shelf life for up to 1 month. It’s also good to consider that peppers with thicker skins last longer than the thinner ones. And, whole peppers are more shelf-stable than the sliced ones. Meanwhile, you can also freeze fresh peppers. Spread them evenly, on a single layer in a sheet tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the peppers onto freezer-safe bags. Here, it’ll last for up to 1 year. But, even though they are easier to peel after freezing, take note that they can only be used in cooking. It’s not meant to be eaten raw as it requires further heat to kill the bacteria. But, to further retain its crispness, you can half-cook the peppers in oil prior to freezing. Fully cooked or roasted Hatch peppers should be refrigerated within 2 hours of exposure to heat. Here, they will usually last 3-5 days while pickled Hatch peppers can last for 1 year.
One of the reasons why Hatch peppers are traditionally roasted is because of their very short cultivation season. Thus, they’re roasted to freeze for use throughout the year. When doing so, simply set up a grill pan on a stove under medium-high heat. Put the peppers on the pan and as soon as they start to sizzle and turn brown, turn them over until both sides are brown and blistered. Store accordingly or use immediately. If you choose the latter, transfer them into a ziplock bag and let it steam for a few minutes. Once they are cooled down, gently peel off the blisters and slice according to your liking. Enjoy it on grilled cheese, tacos, burgers, and so much more.
Raw Hatch pepper is composed of 88% water, 9% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and >1% fat by weight.
- Carbohydrates: Hatch pepper is naturally low in calories, which are primarily composed of water and carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are mostly sugars, such as fructose and glucose, since they’re the ones that give these peppers their sweet taste.
- Fiber: Hatch pepper contains small amounts of fiber, accounting for 2% by weight. Still, it makes a decent source of fiber.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Hatch pepper is an excellent source of vitamins C, B6, K, and A. As a matter of fact, one medium-sized Hatch pepper provides as much vitamin C as 6 oranges, making this fruit one of the richest dietary sources of this nutrient. It’s also a good plant-based source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, niacin, and folate. It is also loaded with antioxidants.
- Hatch pepper promotes weight loss because of its high water content and the amount of capsaicin it contains. It also triggers the body’s “thermodynamic burn,” which speeds up metabolism.
- The high levels of vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process. It can also reduce the development of gout significantly.
- Potassium improves heart health while folate improves our body’s function. Folate is especially important to consume during pregnancy.
- Calcium builds and maintains strong bones. It is also needed for our heart, muscles, and nerves to function properly.
When Are Hatch Chile Peppers in Season in Texas?
To find out when Hatch Chile Peppers are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.