By Helena Rodriguez
The official state question of New Mexico is “Red or green?” Chile breeders, however, are not only saying “Red!” but are seeing red with NuMex Garnet, a new pepper being bred specifically for its pigment.
Stephanie Walker, a vegetable specialist from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, will talk about this new gem of a chile tonight at 7 p.m. at Eastern New Mexico University’s Golden Library. Walker will also talk about the history of chile in New Mexico. The talk is a part of the ongoing Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Key Ingredients: America by Food,” which is on display at ENMU through April 4.
NuMex Garnet is a paprika chile which is used for natural food coloring in products such as lipstick, bologna and even mayonnaise. Walker said no other plants are known to produce the same quantity of red pigment as the NuMex Garnet chile.
“The pigment in paprika is prized as a food colorant and is used in a wide variety of products, from mayonnaise to pepperoni, and this natural red coloring is very prized since, in the past, there have been questions about synthetic red dyes,” Walker said.
According to Walker, two plants, one in Denver City, Texas, and another in Radium Springs, near Las Cruces, are extracting and selling this natural food coloring.
In addition to being bred for their high pigment, Walker noted that NuMex Garnet chile is also bred for no heat or extremely low heat. “That’s our definition for paprika. It’s a highly pigmented, low or pungent pepper,” Walker said. This means that the chile has undetectable levels of capsaicinoids, the natural substances found in other chile peppers which produce watery eyes, runny noses and a burning sensation in the mouth.
Patrick Kircher, the Roosevelt County Agricultural Extension Agent, said NuMex Garnet chile could be grown in the local area, however, he said it would require some background investigative work first to make sure farmers had the right kind of equipment. To date no one is experimenting with the chile in the area and he noted there aren’t a lot of chile farmers in this area to begin with.
Nevertheless, Kircher said, “There is actually a fairly good market for NuMex Garnet. We often thing of chile as being raised to eat, but they are raising it as a coloring agent.” An advantage to NuMex Garnet, verses traditional green chile, according to Kircher, is that it can stay out in the fields longer, before it is harvested, as it matures to a strong red color.
The history of chile in New Mexico dates back at least 400 years, predating the Land of Enchantment’s statehood.
“Many historians think Don Juan de O