Hatch Chile: The Ugly Stepsister of the Southwest

Hatch Chile billboard in Colorado. (Anthony Settipani for PULP)

One thing I absolutely can’t stand is people coming to Colorado from other states (I’m looking at you, California), and using every spare moment to talk about how much better their home state is than ours.

Go back home, then, I say. We don’t want you here.

Until recently, that was my biggest pet peeve with people from outside my home state. I now have an even bigger one, and it’s name is New Mexico.

For those of you who don’t already know, Pueblo’s got a new bully on the block – a pepper bully. It all started with the gubernatorial Twitter debate between Colorado governor Jared Polis and New Mexico, Minister of the Lesser Pepper, Governor Michelle Grisham.

Now, the latest salvo by a state that can’t handle playing second fiddle at the one thing they’re known for (aside from their brand-new border wall, of course), is a series of billboards stretching from Denver to the New Mexico-Colorado border, proudly proclaiming New Mexico as the “Chile Capital of the World.”

Seems you folks are trying to compensate for something.

First off, as anyone with taste buds can readily confirm, it’s wildly apparent that in terms of competition between the two peppers, well, there is none. Pueblo chiles are hotter, more flavorful, and have a more satisfying texture. I wondered for years why Hatch chiles always tasted kind of watery to me whenever I traveled outside Colorado, until I finally realized – it’s because I grew up in Pueblo.

Allow me to break it down: Pueblo chiles usually clock in somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 units on the Scoville scale. That’s a pretty wide range because of the high degree of variation the pepper exhibits, and it gives rise to a broad variety of different dishes and applications for which Pueblo chiles are optimally suited. Hatch chiles, on the other hand, usually come in at a much more bland 500-3,000 units. Less variety, less heat, less overall flavor.

Of course many people, especially restaurants, argue that they prefer using milder chiles like Hatch because they are accessible to a broader, more heat-averse clientele. I respectfully counter with the old saying: “If you can’t take the heat, stop eating spicy chile peppers. Duh.”

The funniest thing to me about this whole situation is that Pueblo doesn’t even have to try to be a world-conquering chile empire. Donielle Gonzalez of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce was once quoted as saying “We don’t feel like we’re in competition with Hatch. We know we’re better.”

We’re a small city without a whole lot of money to throw away on interstate pissing contests. Our total chile production is a fraction of the thousands of acres New Mexico devotes exclusively to chile farming. We only really started promoting our peppers a few years ago, compared to a state that has been telling everyone they’re the last word on the subject for close to a century. Hell, we probably couldn’t even afford to pay for half of that billboard campaign if we tried.

But money couldn’t make Cinderella’s stepsisters any prettier, and money isn’t going to make New Mexico’s peppers taste any better either. As Governor Polis recently put it, “The fact that they have to design a promotional campaign in support of their chiles shows how superior the Pueblo chile is.” In other words, if you have to tell everyone you’re the best – you’re probably not.

We prefer our peppers because they’re damn good. We share them with our friends, then our friends share them with their friends, and on and on until it reaches someone down south who feels insecure enough to start paying for billboards and silly video campaigns.

Pueblo chiles are the viral video of the pepper world. And they really do speak for themselves, as Carl Musso of Musso Farms recently found out.

Just look what happened when Westword, Denver’s alt weekly newspaper, carried out an unofficial blind tasting between the two peppers: Pueblo chiles won out over Hatch, a fact that Westword Food & Drinks Editor Mark Antonation summed up with the unequivocal statement: “When it comes to green chiles, Colorado, go Pueblo or go home.” He also pointed out that Hatch chile production is on the decline, a fact that speaks louder than any billboard ever could.

In summary, it’s the same old stuff that bullies have done since time immemorial. They’re picking on the little guy because right now, they have nothing else to do. New Mexico has begun to lose its place at the top, and with it, a large part of its identity. Like all bullies, their strong words are little more than a mask for an insecurity that continues to grow day after day. We should probably feel sorry for them.

But in this case at least, there’s one more thing New Mexico is forgetting: this is Pueblo, bro, and we know how to deal with bullies. We’ve been beaten down and looked down on our entire lives. You don’t scare us. You’re scared of us. You’re just a jealous neighbor stomping your feet over our greener grass (or rather, chiles) who has everything you really need, and still wants to steal the one thing we have over you.

So chill out, New Mexico. Enjoy your wimpy, weak-tasting peppers. and keep telling yourself you’re the best. Because over here, no one wants to hear it anymore. That’s the real “New Mexico True.”

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