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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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In New Mexico's Growing Chile Industry, Some Like It Hot, Some Like It Bright

LAS CRUCES -- If some of New Mexico's red chile peppers look a little different this year, blame it on a growing demand for chile products, fueled by hot sauce lovers back East.


About a third of the state's acreage was planted in skinnier, slightly curved cayenne peppers to feed the demand for bottled hot sauce, said Javier Vargas, Dona Ana County Extension agent.

"We have two major companies here (in the county) that mash the cayenne, store it, age it and send it off to the hot sauce makers," he said.

Under this year's excellent growing conditions, cayenne yields were high -- in some cases twice as much as traditional red chile varieties, Vargas said.

Color extracts from regular red and paprika chiles are still sought after for everything from coloring foods to lipstick, Vargas noted. A local oil extraction company processes the red chile colorings.

All this good news comes on top of healthy green chile yields -- welcome news after a host of diseases bit into last year's crop.

"This year's harvest is probably our best in 10 years," Vargas says. "Chiles love warm dry weather and low humidity, so everything this year was just the way they like it."

That meant chileheads could stock up on green to their hearts' content, though at slightly higher prices than last year -- $12 to $17 a sack. Cooks and decorators could choose from an abundant supply of brilliant ristras at roadside stands, farmers markets and stores.

The variety of markets for New Mexican chile shows the industry's steady growth and diversification, Vargas said.

"Chile is more than just food, more than just paprika, more than just color," he said. "Now we're moving into other areas."