The New Mexican Chile Tradition

Chiles are a staple of New Mexican cuisine, and the state’s chile tradition is rich and vibrant. From the annual chile harvest to the many ways chiles are used in New Mexican cooking, chiles are more than just a food in New Mexico – they are a way of life.

The New Mexican Chile

The History of Chiles in New Mexico

Chiles were first introduced to New Mexico by Spanish conquistadors in the late 16th century. Over time, the Native Americans of New Mexico adopted chiles into their diet, and they quickly became a staple of New Mexican cuisine.[1]

New Mexico’s unique climate and soil conditions are ideal for growing chiles. The state’s chiles are known for their complex flavor and aroma, which is due to the high concentration of capsaicin and other compounds.

The Chile Harvest

The chile harvest is a major event in New Mexico. Each year, in late August and early September, farmers across the state harvest their chile crops. The harvest is a time for celebration, and many communities host chile festivals and other events.

Uses for Chiles in New Mexican Cuisine

Chiles are used in a wide variety of New Mexican dishes. They are used to make sauces, stews, soups, and even desserts. Some of the most popular New Mexican dishes that feature chiles include:

  • Green chile stew: This hearty stew is made with green chiles, pork, potatoes, and other vegetables.
  • Enchiladas: New Mexican enchiladas are typically made with a red chile sauce and filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables.
  • Burritos: New Mexican burritos are often filled with green chile, cheese, and meat.
  • Carne adovada: This pork stew is made with a red chile sauce and adobo spices.
  • Rellenos: These stuffed chiles are typically filled with cheese and meat, and they are often served with a red chile sauce.

Other Chile Traditions in New Mexico

In addition to being used in cooking, chiles are also used in other ways in New Mexico. For example, many New Mexicans enjoy tying ristras, which are strings of dried chiles that are often hung for decoration. Chiles are also used to make chile powder, which is a popular spice in New Mexican cuisine.

Preservation and Promotion

The New Mexican chile tradition is not just a relic of the past; it’s a living, breathing tradition that continues to evolve. Efforts are underway to preserve and promote this culinary legacy. Organizations, like the New Mexico Chile Association, work tirelessly to support chile farmers, promote sustainable agriculture, and ensure the continuation of this vital tradition.

Traditional Crops Grown in New Mexico
Traditional Crops Grown in New Mexico, Photo Credit: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Moreover, the New Mexican government has granted the chile a special status as the state’s official vegetable[2], highlighting its cultural significance. Every year, festivals and events, such as the Hatch Chile Festival, celebrate the harvest and culinary culture of this vibrant state.


Q: What are New Mexico chiles called?

A: New Mexico chiles are a type of chile pepper that is grown in the state of New Mexico. They are known for their unique flavor and heat profile. There are many different varieties of New Mexico chiles, but some of the most popular include:

  • Hatch chile
  • Anaheim chile
  • Sandia chile
  • Española chile
  • Big Jim chile

Q: What chile is New Mexico known for?

A: New Mexico is known for its Hatch chile. Hatch chiles are a type of Anaheim chile that is grown in the Hatch Valley of New Mexico. They are known for their smoky flavor and medium heat. Hatch chiles are popular in New Mexican cuisine and are often used in dishes such as green chile stew, burritos, and enchiladas.

Q: Is New Mexico Chile the same as Guajillo?

A: No, New Mexico chile is not the same as guajillo. Guajillo chiles are a type of dried Mexican chile pepper. They are known for their earthy flavor and medium heat. Guajillo chiles are often used in Mexican cuisine to make sauces, moles, and stews.

Q: Why is New Mexico Green Chile so good?

A: New Mexico green chile is so good because it has a unique flavor and heat profile. It is also very versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. New Mexico green chile is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium.

Here are some additional FAQs about New Mexico chile:

Q: What is the difference between red and green chile?

Red chile is made from ripe New Mexico chiles that have been dried and roasted. Green chile is made from unripe New Mexico chiles that are roasted and then peeled.

Q: What is the best way to store New Mexico chile?

New Mexico chile can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Q: How do I use New Mexico chile in my cooking?

New Mexico chile can be used in a variety of dishes, such as soups, stews, sauces, and salsas. It can also be added to ground beef or chicken for a flavorful taco filling.

Q: What are some popular New Mexican dishes that use chile?

Some popular New Mexican dishes that use chile include:

  • Green chile stew
  • Chile rellenos
  • Chile con queso
  • Burritos
  • Enchiladas
  • Tacos

Chiles are an integral part of New Mexican culture and cuisine. The state’s chile tradition is rich and vibrant, and it is something that New Mexicans are proud of.