Hatch Chiles, Like Unicorns, Don’t Exist

We are about to be beset by restaurants, promoters, and the more credulous sections of the media bombarding us with the message that it is “Hatch Chile Time.”  I hate to burst the bubble, but there is no such thing as a “Hatch Chile.” Sure, there are chilies from Hatch, New Mexico, and they host the famous festival,  but the product they export is just a chilies, not Hatch chile pepper. Dave DeWitt explains it all very well in his “The Complete Chile Pepper Book.”

“There is no such thing as a Hatch chile, despite all the hype about them. It is not a chile variety, as many people think. Yes, there are chiles grown in Hatch, usually the varieties ‘Barker’ and ‘NuMex 6-4′. These grown-in-Hatch varieties are no better than those grown in the Mesilla Valley or in Deming. There are simply not enough chiles grown in Hatch to supply all of the sellers claiming to provide “Hatch chile.” A few years ago at the New Mexico Chile Conference, I spoke to two women who have a chile farm in eastern Arizona who confessed to me that they shipped their chiles to Hatch, where roadside vendors labeled them “Hatch chiles.” So, how did this mythology come about? Well, first, there is a Hatch brand of canned chiles, packed by Border Foods in Deming. This brand has been on the market for years, but probably most of these chiles are grown in Mexico, not Hatch. Then there is what Jimmy Buffet calls the “coconut telegraph,” but here it’s the Capsicum Telegraph–namely word of mouth and rumor from consumers who mistakenly spread the hype. Sorry to burst everyone’s Hatch bubble, but I always tell it like it is.”

This isn’t to say that chiles are not wonderful things, but don’t waste your time or money on somebody’s Hatch chiles or their “festival.” Better to go to one of the area restaurants that worships them through their food. For example, Komali, which never seems to have fewer than six different varieties somewhere on their menu, or Mesa which prepares them with deference to Veracruz culinary tradition.

13 comments on “Hatch Chiles, Like Unicorns, Don’t Exist

  1. Hatch is to chiles as St.-Estèphe is to grapes. The question is not whether Hatch chiles exist; chiles grown in the defined Hatch region certainly DO exist. The question is whether chiles sold as being grown in Hatch actually come from there. How is it a waste of money if you get what you think you are buying?

  2. St. Estephe adds something to the grapes grown there that is different from the same species of grape grown in other areas, say St. Julien or Pauillac. Hatch adds nothing location-specific to chilies grown there. That is why tasters can’t pick them out from chilies grown in, say, Arizona. Ergo, per DeWitt’s book, there is no such thing as a Hatch chile, just chilies from Hatch.

  3. Have you, personally, done a blind tasting of chiles grown in Hatch versus those grown in Arizona or Mexico? Is that how you arrived at the conclusion that there is no terroir specific to the Hatch area? Or are you you simply repeating the findings of DeWitt, who is a computer science professor at the University of Wisconsin?

  4. Hey Kirk, it’s Hatch, NEW MEXICO. I’m unclear as to whether that was a typo or if you just didn’t know that there is a state between Texas and Arizona. It just bugs me when someone comes off high and mighty and probably has yet to taste a green chile grown in Hatch, anywhere in Arizona, or even California for that matter. Region certainly affects flavor, given the local flora, water and soil conditions. One who knows so much about grapes should certainly be aware of such simple facts.
    But then, what do I know?

  5. Oops, I guess that was a combined rant truly meant as a slam to Andrew. I am now open to all ridicule as I have called out my own fail.

  6. I agree with Greenchilefanatic and Kirk. The chiles from the Hatch region have a different taste from what I buy elsewhere and grow at home. Plus, it’s just plain fun to try all the different foods and drinks made with the Hatch chilies.

  7. Greenchilefanatic: I assure you that I do, indeed, know that the state of New Mexico exists, and I have spent a considerable amount of time in the northern part of the state. I was referring to Mexico (the country), because my understanding is that some chiles sold as Hatch chiles come in from our neighbor to the south. I would also like to say that your “rant” made more a lot sense than Chalk’s assertions that a.) there is no such thing as a Hatch chile, and b.) that St.-Estèphe “adds something to the grapes grown there” that is different from what results from the climate and soils of any prized growing region.

    Nancy’s right that Hatch chiles are “branded,” like Copper River Salmon. So too are Idaho potatoes, Washington apples, Rio Grande Valley grapefruit, Florida oranges, Napa Valley wines, etc., etc., etc. As I said in my initial comment, if the issue is that chiles being sold as Hatch chiles don’t come from the Hatch region, then that’s an issue that needs to be addressed, in my opinion. That is the same issue that Chalk railed against a few years when he alleged that a Dallas winemaker was using California grapes in a “Texas” wine.

    I also enjoy the roasted green chiles sold in this area as Hatch chiles, and buy a case of the freshly roasted ones every year. I love the smell of them roasting, love the flavor and piquancy they add to dishes, and have never mistaken them for a unicorn.

  8. I hardly think that the comparison of the Hatch Chile to Copper River Salmon is legitamate.

    Info – The Copper River flows in the state of Alaska. Almost 300 miles in length, this wild rushing river empties into Prince William Sound at the town of Cordova. Salmon that originate in these pristine waters are challenged by its length and its strong, chill rapids. Consequently, Copper River salmon are strong, robust creatures with a healthy store of natural oils and body fat. These qualities make the salmon among the richest, tastiest fish in the world. One taste of this firm red fish, with its rich and nutty flavor, and you will understand why food lovers relish the three to four weeks that fresh Copper River salmon is available each year.

  9. The people in NM don’t give a crap about Hatch. That’s just marketing (led by Whole Foods) for us Texans.

  10. Pingback: Dallas-Area Farm to Market Report Weekend of August 18-19 | SideDish

  11. Call them what you like, they’re delicious. Hatch is a nomenclature that has come to describe a spicy green chile as opposed to the non-spicy Anaheim. What is communicated by the term is the spicy flavor not specifically what town they were grown in. They arrive seasonally from New Mexico or wherever in mid August They are unique for the punchy flavor and are only available fresh for a month or so. Locals in NM buy them by the 1/2 or full burlap bag, have them roasted on site at the store and freeze them for use throughout the year. New Mexicans do not generally question the provenance of the chiles but know they’re getting what they want if they are sold as “Hatch” chilies. They used to only be distributed in Dallas unreliably at the Farmers Market or by mail order. Thanks to WF and Central Market for bringing them in. Get ‘em while they’re hot!