Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It's not the fire, it's the flavor

My dinner companions were world-class experts in their field. I was privileged to be sitting at a table with some eloquent and knowledgeable souls, and the conversation was getting pretty hot and spicy.
“I find Scorpion arrogant ... all about itself,” said Sue Hard.
Her husband agreed, but had kinder words to offer on another personality.
“Jolokia, on the other hand, plays well with others,” John Hard said.
They weren’t talking about people, but peppers.
Though the Hards’ CaJohn’s factory, store and other enterprises are based in Ohio, they are frequent visitors to Las Cruces and are on an intimate, first-name basis with many of New Mexico’s most famous chile peppers. They’ve created more than 150 savory specialty food products that have won more than 200 regional, national and international awards. And that includes some goodies that have helped raise big bucks for a nearly-there Chile Pepper Institute campaign to endow a $1 million chile pepper research chair.
Their newest offerings include “Jolokia ‘10’ Wing Sauce.”
The teaspoons were drawn as the new sauce made the rounds at the CPI Development Leadership Council dinner during February’s annual New Mexico Chile Conference here.
It put me in mind of many evenings with wine aficionados, meticulously evaluating the qualities of wine.
And it was clear that pepper appreciation has come of age.
At past conferences, we’d heard about some big developments in the field. Two years ago, Paul Bosland, NMSU Regents professor and director of the CPI, announced the results of a cooperative chile genome mapping project with Seoul National University in South Korea.
“The chile pepper has approximately 3.5 billion base pairs, which are the building blocks that make up the DNA double helix, compared to tomatoes, which have about 950 million (homo sapiens have about 3 billion). The Human Genome Project determined we have about 20,000 genes. Chile peppers have about 37,000 genes. Whether that means chiles are more evolved than we are, I don’t know,” Bosland quipped after the 2013 announcement.
That year, the table talk focused on cosmic chile questions: Could it be, for instance, that our fave peppers are more sophisticated and complex than the humans who eat them?
In other years, there were announcements that Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’s mean heat measurement of more than 1.2 million Scoville Heat Units made it the planet’s hottest chile pepper, dethroning Bhut Jolokia, a previous world record holder identified by the CPI and certified by Guinness World Records in 2007.
Other contenders seem to come and go, but the connoisseurs at my table made it clear that hotness is no longer so hot in the chile biz.
“It’s not the fire, it’s the flavor,” John Hard said. “It’s not the macho thing of who can endure the biggest burn.”
There was discussion about the return and culinary evolution of some of our favorite heritage peppers.
“NuMex Heritage 6-4 was originally released by NMSU as a green chile pepper developed to have five times the flavor and aroma compounds of similar chile peppers grown today. We found that when you dried it as a red chile pepper, it makes for a mild, very flavorful taste. With some red chile powders, you end up with a bitter taste.
“With this, it’s a quick way to get a very flavorful red sauce,” Bosland said.
Ah, so many peppers, so little time. We mere humans may not yet have the means to fully appreciate our sophisticated chile amigos, but we can have fun trying (and instead of a hangover, we can look forward to an endorphin rush reward).
If you’d like to have your own chile-tasting party, check out a fun CPI “Flavor Wheel” with information on heat and flavor profiles and uses of 14 popular peppers, along with packaged sauces, powders, brownie mixes and other goodies, at the CPI store in NMSU’s Gerald Thomas Hall, room 265, or visit online at

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

No comments: