Chile (Capsicum)

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Freshly harvested chiles being sold by bulk
These large roasters dot the New Mexican landscape in the fall where freshly purchased Chile is roasted by the millions of pounds

Chile is the name applied to a species of Capsicum peppers grown in the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico. Chile is in the same family as the jalapeño but is a distinct and unique species with a distinct and unique taste. It is used ubiquitously in New Mexican cuisine as a spice and flavoring agent. It ranges from very mild to extremely hot. It is often joked by locals that the food is just an excuse for the chile. It comes in two varieties the unripe form of the plant called green chile and the ripened form of the plant called red Chile. If both green chile and red chile are used it is referred to as Christmas (a reference to the color combination).

The skin of the chile is tough and irritating so is removed before consumption. It is also almost never consumed raw. Traditionally the chile is flame roasted and most commercial producers will flame roast it before freezing and packaging. The plant is harvested in October and is sold by the pound across the state from both road side stands and major commercial venues like Walmart. Chile roasters set up giant roasters outside of shops where consumers can have the chile roasted, usually free of charge. These roasting stations pop up all over the place during October so the smell of roasting chile is closely associated with fall in the state.

This species of chile is only grown in the Rio Grande valley and is not used much outside of that region. It requires extremely dry and hot weather to grow. A unique species of bacteria attacks the plant, it is theorized that the unique chemical agent that gives chile its kick evolved in response to this bacterial agent.

Hatch, New Mexico is the largest agricultural producer of chile and Hatch Chile is considered some of the best by chile aficionados.

Chile is also highly addictive, it is believed that the endorphins released in response to the spicy flavor is the source of this addiction. Regardless those born and raised on chile can experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms if they stop consuming it. Chile is so popular that it usually must be included as a menu option at any restaurant in the state. It is used on hamburgers, pasta, omelets, sandwiches, soup, salad and hundreds of other traditional and non-traditional dishes, including even sushi. Franchise stores such as Subway and McDonald's get special permission from the franchise headquarters to include it on their menu as a local option.