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New Mexico State University

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NMSU graduate student ready to taste test her chile gelato recipes

Imagine taking a bite of a cold, frosty treat such as a gelato. The tip of your tongue feels cool as the sweet frozen dessert coats it. Just as you're about to take another bite, the back of your throat starts feeling hotter and hotter.

CUTLINE: Graduate student Sarah Padilla, left, and professor Lisa McKee measure the color and viscosity of their own chile gelato base liquid inside a food science laboratory in Gerald Thomas Hall. Padilla's graduate thesis centers on product development of chile-flavored gelato. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

That's the taste sensation you'll experience when you try Sarah Padilla's chile gelatos.

The New Mexico State University Family and Consumer Sciences graduate student has created recipes for chile gelato using three varieties of the hot stuff developed by the university's Chile Pepper Institute: Heritage 6-4 (mild), Cayenne (medium) and Bhut Jolokia (hot).

The chile gelatos come "hot" on the heels of the Family and Consumer Sciences' successful chile brownie taste test in July. Padilla will hold a so-called "sensory evaluation" on her spicy gelato recipes next week. Anyone lucky enough to be on campus Aug. 15 and 16 can drop by room 331 in Gerald Thomas Hall and take part in the taste test. The tastings start at 9 a.m. each day and end whenever samples run out.

The chile gelato recipes are part of Padilla's master's thesis and, not surprisingly, she has a good handle on her creations.

"It's a very weird sensation. It's very hot and cold at the same time," Padilla said. "It takes a few seconds to hit you because the fat in the gelato coats the chile. As the fat dissolves you get the heat sensation.

"You can't taste the chile; it's more the sensation of the spiciness," she added. "I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but I actually do. It tastes very good. It's very creamy with a light flavor. It's not too sweet."

The base gelato is made from a mixture of sugar, vanilla, milk and half-and-half. The chiles are in a powdered form and are added to the basic gelato mix. The combined ingredients are then aged for 24 hours in a refrigerator before being put into the ice cream maker. Only half a teaspoon of chile powder per gallon of ice cream is used.

"The Bhut Jolokia is so hot that any more than a half teaspoon you probably wouldn't be able to eat it unless you were a huge chile head," Padilla said. "I think the majority of people won't think the gelatos are so hot that they will need to get a drink of water after."

Padilla, who hopes to finish her thesis and graduate in December, knows she has a good product, but so far she hasn't given much thought to marketing her dessert. Right now, her aspirations are modest.

"Eventually we're going to be selling ice cream out of Gerald Thomas Hall," she said. "If (the chile gelatos) are popular enough they will be regular flavors in the display case."