In Florida, they’ve got oranges. Idaho is famous for its potatoes. New York is probably best known for cheesecake.
But New Mexico? Well, how about the chile pepper?
These green or red spicy vegetables are used in almost every meal in the region's most famous dishes, and the pepper has become one of the most important crops to the southwestern state.
Red or green is a question New Mexicans answer every day at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez on the New Mexico chile pepper
Now to protect this valuable cash crop from impostors, the state announced its own trademark and certification program to protect the reputation and integrity of the pepper.
Gov. Susana Martinez, members of the New Mexico Chile Association and other public officials unveiled the new program on Tuesday at Bernalillo’s Range Café, the first restaurant to sign up for the pepper program.
“Red or green is a question New Mexicans answer every day at breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Martinez told reporters gathered at the café. “Chile is a way of life in our state, ingrained in our culture and our economy. It supports more than 4,000 jobs and contributes more than $400 million every year to New Mexico’s economy.”
The program builds on legislation passed in 2011 that made it illegal to advertise chiles as being New Mexico peppers unless they were actually grown in the state and follows similar moves across the U.S. such as those taken for Vidalia Onions in Georgia and the "100% Pure Florida" orange certification program that support signature state and regional crops.
The certification also comes at a time when the chile pepper crop is rebounding following an extra-wet rainy season.
"Every time it rained, we needed the water, and it hasn’t hurt us," Glen Duggins, a chile farmer from the state told local media. "The chile is just beautiful – the mild, the hot, the extra hot – looks like a bumper crop.”
The announcement comes also as growers and state officials have seen an influx of an impostor chiles flooding marketplaces around the country with what are described as less expensive, lower quality peppers that are often labeled as coming from New Mexico. Growers in the state are facing competition from chiles imported from China, India and Peru – especially in the form of powder or pulp.
“Whether you prefer red, green or Christmas (a mix of both), you want to know that your chile was grown in New Mexico by farmers with generations of experience, in rich soil and the kind of intense sunlight that makes this flavorful food,” Martinez said.
An independent auditor will certify whether restaurants, salsa makers and others in the hot pepper business are using New Mexico-grown chile before they can advertise the fact, and the chile association is also busy creating a website where consumers can find vendors who sell the real deal.
And for those unsure of how to tell the difference between a chile grown in New Mexico and somewhere else, people at the state’s chile association say that one bite is all it takes.
“We are confident we can continue to expand markets for New Mexico chile as consumers understand there is no imitation of the original,” said New Mexico Chile Association president Dino Cervantes.