What is Hatch Chile?

Hatch Chiles are Chile Peppers varieties commercially cultivated in the Hatch Valley of Southern New Mexico which then are designated, Hatch Chile.

The Hatch Valley stretches along the Rio Grande River from Arrey, New Mexico, south to Tonuco Mountain, southeast of the town of Hatch, and into the Rincon area. It is said that the soil and climate of the area contribute to the especially pleasing flavor of the chilies. The Hatch Valley is also a place where New Mexico Onions, New Mexico Pecans and other commercial crops are grown. These crops also benefit from the soil and climate.

Hatch, New Mexico

The History of Hatch Chile

Formal Cultivar of Chile Peppers as an Agricultural Commercial Crop began on the campus of the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts which is now New Mexico State University at the start of the 20th Century. Research was done under the guidance of Dr. Fabián García, who in 1913 released New Mexico 9, a milder tasting Chile pepper than what was for sale at that time. With a flood of new residents coming to New Mexico, the normal Chile was too hot initially, so work was done to tone it down a little. There was also a desire to have smooth Chile Peppers that could be canned better.

New Mexico 9 is an ancestor of all New Mexico Chile Peppers. Many agricultural researchers over the years worked on developing Chile varieties. In 1950, a variety of Chile pepper called New Mexico 6 was introduced. A few years later it was modified to be less hot to the taste and is called NuMex 6-4. Dr. Roy Nakayama made vast improvements in the quality of several varieties of the Chile pepper plants. From the research and development comes New Mexico Chile like NuMex Big Jim which when introduced by Dr. Nakayama in 1975 was listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest Green Chile Pods. At the time then and now it is noted as being perfect for Chile Rellenos and is highly valued for having a superb taste.

What is Chile?

Chile, the fruit from Chile Peppers (Capsicum annuum), is a spicy enhancement to the flavor of food and a food in and of itself. Chile is a New Mexican and Southwestern tradition for any meal. It comes in many forms:

  • Freshly picked from the field and used quickly.
  • Processed into a jar with that same great fresh taste when opened.
  • Frozen so that when defrosted that great Chile flavor is realized.
  • Dried so it can be reconstituted into great tasting food.
  • Powdered into a spice which is added as the flavor is desired.

Chile is an integral part of a myriad of restaurant and home prepared meals, morning, noon and night.

Green Chile Burger

Is it Chile or Chili?

Traditionally, the word “Chile” refers to the plant with peppers and “Chili” describes when meat, tomatoes, pinto beans, and chili powder is cooked into a meal. Often, it is called Chili con Carne–Chili with Meat. One way to describe it: Chile is an ingredient and Chili is a meal. Both words come from Mexico centuries ago and can be interchanged without changing the good taste of either.

How did Chile end up on my food?

Thousands of years ago, an unrecorded human saw a plant perhaps in Bolivia. The person found that the fruit of the plant tasted good. Over thousands of years, the fruit of that plant was cultivated and valued. It was and is used heavily in Mexico and brought to New Mexico over the years. In the American Southwest, and specifically, New Mexico, it is called the Chile Pepper Plant. Originally it was mostly grown in personal gardens but in the 20th Century it became a commercial crop developed by researchers at New Mexico State University. Harvesting Green Chile

Types of Hatch Chile Peppers

There are many varieties of Hatch Chile Peppers. A few of the popular varieties are:

The Big Jim Chile Peppers

Big Jim is one of the most popular Chile Pepper grown in the Hatch Valley. It is also one that has been cultivated for many years. With Chile Pods typically about ten inches long, it is valued for its use in Chile Rellenos. But more importantly to most people, the taste of Big Jim is excellent with thick flavorful chile meat and a heat that is said to be in the range of medium.
This variety of Hatch Chile Pepper is usually picked when green though if left on the vine will turn red and can be combined with green to make a Red Green or some call it a Christmas Chile. Big Jim Chile Pepper

NuMex Heritage Big Jim Chile Peppers

The Big Jim Heritage pepper has a Scoville rating of medium to hot heat. It was developed by several researchers including Jimmy Lytle, the son of Jim Lytle. Dr. Roy Nakayama named the Big Jim Chile to honor Jim Lytle’s work in the Chile Industry. Both Big Jim and Big Jim Heritage are noted for their pleasing Chile flavor. Both have a full rich tasty flavor, just a little bit sweet. Big Jim Heritage Chile Peppers, though, are hotter to the taste.

Charger Chile Peppers

The Charger Chile Pepper has Medium heat with an exceedingly excellent flavor. That flavor is noted for being lively, yet not too hot. The Chile Peppers are large and the walls are thick, making the Chile Pepper good for frying and stuffing. Charger Chile Pepper

Sandia Select Chile Peppers

The Sandia Select Chile Pepper is very popular with restaurants and those who cook at home. It has a Scoville rating of hot heat to the taste. To Chile aficionados, this is one of the varieties that is distinct in a strong Chile flavor and dependable in the amount of heat. The Sandia Select Chile Peppers are usually about seven inches long so besides chopped up as a condiment or blended for enchiladas, the Chile Pepper can be used for Chile Rellenos. Sandia Chile Pepper

G76 Chile Peppers

The G76 is a tasty hot heat Chile Pepper valued for its uniform fruit about 7 to 8 inches long which is used often for Chile Rellenos and as a condiment for grilling. The taste of G76 is unique and highly valued by some people. It hits their taste buds just right. G76 is a powerful flavor that some people feel is velvety. G76 Chile Pepper

Rattlesnake Chile Peppers

Rattlesnake is a New Mexico Chile Pepper that is Extra Hot in heat and tasty. Some people have eaten Chile long enough that traditional medium or even hot just does not have the “Bite” that they want. That is when the Extra Hot Chile comes in handy. It is quite spicy and crisp to the taste. And, to those who need the Chile Pepper to be robust, Rattlesnake does so.

Barker Chile Peppers

The Barker is a New Mexico Chile Pepper that is extra hot in heat. It is not as overpowering as Lumbre but will still make an impression on your taste buds. What many people like is that Barker Chile Peppers have what some call a tangy taste.

Lumbre Chile Peppers

While relatively new, the Lumbre Chile Peppers are noted as the hottest Chile Pepper normally grown in the Hatch Valley. They are extra hot. For many people the heat and flavor are exactly what a good enchilada needs to be completely satisfying. Lumbre Chile Peppers also go well in Chile Stew using beef, vegetables and onions. Lumbre Chile Pepper

When Is Hatch Chile Season?

Typically, the Hatch Chile is planted in April, depending on soil temperature and other environmental factors, and the Harvest Season is from the first harvests of mature green Chile in early August until the first freeze, usually in November. However, with the development of Chile pepper sauces and salsa in bottles, the Hatch Chile Season in your kitchen is year-round.

What makes the description: Good Chile?

There are two main factors in using the description “Good” Chile. They are the growing and harvesting of the plant, and secondly, the use of the Chile.

The first consideration is the planting and harvesting, regardless of variety. Some varieties of Chile grow better than others when it comes to disease and pest resistance. Some Chile Peppers have thick walls which makes roasting turn out better.

Overall, it is the amount and quality of fruit produced. Likewise, it is advantageous for the fruit to mature at the same time, thereby making harvesting more efficient. Also, there is resistance to environmental factors such as too much or too little water, too much or too little sun and overall temperature variation on the Chile plants. Finally, there is the issue of how well the fruit survives being harvested.

Once the Chile is harvested, there are several factors making some Chile varieties more attractive to commercial or home growers when processing. Flavor is always the first consideration. Then the ease of roasting, which in some varieties is a bonus. The meat of the Chile is thick and during roasting retains its flavor. It is important for Chile to be consistent in heat and flavor. Some Chile is very attractive for use when it is green while other varieties of Chile have been found to be best for when the Chile turns red which all Chile peppers do in the fall of the year.

How do I know when Chile is grown in New Mexico?

Different types of Chile Peppers are grown all over the world, and some varieties of New Mexico Chile are grown and packaged in other states such as Arizona, California and, Colorado, New Mexico law 25-11-3. Unlawful advertising, labeling or selling of non-New Mexico Chile assures the authenticity of Chile labeled New Mexico Chile to be New Mexico grown.

Hatch Chile Recipes

Where Can I Buy Hatch Chile Pepper products?

The Fresh Chile Company provides consumers the taste of Chile every day of the year. Our Chile sauces and salsas come in four heats (mild, medium, hot and extra-hot) and twelve varieties along with special Chile infused mustards, ketchup, and barbeque sauces. There are also Chile powders and other products available for purchase and shipping.

Written by Michael Swickard, PH.D.

Dr. Michael Swickard

© 2023 The Fresh Chile Company