Green chile: an indispensable ingredient in Mexican cuisine

Can you imagine enchiladas, chilaquiles, or pico de gallo sauce without green chile? Read in detail about this emblematic product of Mexican cuisine.

Green chile: an indispensable ingredient in Mexican cuisine
Green chile. Photo by Andrew Coop / Unsplash

Among the many things that Mexico has given to the world, its gastronomy is undoubtedly one of them. Among the diversity of its typical dishes, we find those containing chili, a symbol of Mexican identity. Can you imagine enchiladas, chilaquiles, or pico de gallo sauce without green chile?

Chili peppers, like many other vegetables in Mexico, are produced under quality standards and good agricultural practices and are always under surveillance to avoid pest infestations that could affect them.

Greener if it is green chile

Chili is one of the most popular symbols of Mexican culture. Its use in food is widespread, to the extent of being used in traditional medicine as a remedy for respiratory diseases, as an analgesic, laxative, and digestive.

Some indigenous peoples continue to use it in propitiatory rituals to ensure good harvests, as well as in various religious ceremonies. But chiles have not only been used but also managed and transformed by Mexicans through cultivation and artificial selection.

Chili derives from the Nahuatl word chili and is an essential food in Mexican gastronomy. From the various pre-Hispanic cultures to the present day, it has been an important ingredient and is present in up to 90% of their dishes, either directly (chopped or sliced) or as an essential ingredient in sauces, marinades, moles, among others.

The oldest evidence so far found of seeds in Mexico dates back to the cave of Coxcatlán, in the region of Tehuacán, Puebla, where chili remains were discovered between 6900 and 5000 BC.

The characteristics of green chile

The green chile belongs to the genus Capsicum (from the Greek Kapsakes) which means capsule. In Mexico, 64 types of chile are reported to be consumed in different ways.

The industry also elaborates it in frozen, dehydrated, pickled, and canned products; as well as in pastes and diverse sauces. It is also used as raw material to obtain colorants and for medicinal use, among others.

To grow and bear fruit, it needs a temperature of between 20 and 30° C, which can vary from 16 to 32°C. This product can develop well at sea level and up to an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level; and the most suitable soils are light textured, which retain moisture.

Chili peppers are classified according to their level of spiciness in hot, sweet, or bell pepper and by the degree of maturity of their fruit, are grouped into green and dry. The latter includes chiles that are left to ripen and dry, dehydrated and smoked; an example of this is the chipotle chile, among others. Mexico has a great variety of chili peppers, thanks to the different climatic and geographical conditions.

National production of green chili

At the national level, all states contributed to the production of green chili. Both the area planted and harvested, was more than 160 thousand hectares in 2017, which generated production of more than 3 million tons in 2017.

Although all states contributed to production, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas, were the main producers with a 60.9% share of the total in 2017.

Green chile production from September to December has its highest availability. On the contrary from April to June, it is at its lowest level, according to data from the 2012-2018 Agrifood Atlas. As for dry chili, from December to March it has its highest production.

In the last ten years, production shows an upward trend. In 2008, 2,052 thousand tons were produced and in 2017 it reached 3,297 thousand tons, i.e. an increase of 60.7%. Of the national production, 84.5% comes from open field cultivation and 15.5% from protected agriculture.

Green chile from Mexico to the world

Like many other Mexican products that cross borders, green chile was the seventh most exported agri-food product in 2017 with 1.04 billion dollars. This vegetable's main destination was the U.S. market, with more than 1.38 million tons, in addition to being marketed in 13 countries. On a global scale, Mexico is the second-largest producer of green chile (behind China) and contributes two out of every eight tons to the world supply.

Spicy, tasty, and healthy

Green chili contains capsaicin, a substance that gives it its spicy flavor. This vegetable can have six times more Vitamin C than an orange, according to the National Service of Health, Safety and Agri-Food Quality (SENASICA). It is also a source of iron and potassium, along with vitamins B and E.

The bright color is a sign of a high content of beta-carotene, an antioxidant with benefits for the cardiovascular system, skin, eyes, and immune system. Its consumption is related to some medicinal effects and benefits such as:

Increases the number of calories burned during digestion.

It reduces cholesterol levels.

It has an anticoagulant effect.

It is associated with antioxidant qualities.

Reduces blood pressure.

Stimulates metabolism.

Other uses are in infusion for coughs, colds, and as an analgesic or anti-inflammatory.

However, the abuse in its consumption can also cause discomfort such as stomach irritation, especially if you suffer from gastritis, so be very careful in its intake. Moderate yourself.

Among the best known spiciest green chile varieties are: habanero, chiltepín, piquín, de árbol, serrano, jalapeño, bell or morrón.

Recommendations for choosing the best ones

It is not always appropriate to place all vegetables or fruits in one place, because some vegetables release ethylene, a gas that accelerates metabolism. Here are some tips for the best preservation of fruits and vegetables:

At room temperature

Before storing or placing them in the fruit bowl, wash them, drain them and separate the very ripe ones, to prevent them from rotting the others.

Eat ripe fruit as soon as possible to avoid waste and take advantage of its nutrients (vitamins, sugars, minerals, fiber, and water).

Do not place bananas, pears, and tomatoes with sweet potatoes, potatoes, or watermelon, the former ripen faster and the latter can spoil without realizing it.

Blows or bruises, extreme temperatures, as well as pests, diseases, microorganisms, and chemical agents can alter the respiration of vegetables and fruits, avoiding these conditions to have these foods in a good state of maturation and nutrition.

In refrigeration

Place fresh vegetables in the drawers at the bottom of the refrigerator, which is the least cold and closed area to keep them.

If you put vegetables in bags, make small perforations to prevent them from sweating and deteriorating quickly due to humidity.

Fruits that are already ripe but firm can be refrigerated for up to five days.

Undoubtedly, chili is a sign of identity and Mexican identity. Its presence is important in the national gastronomy, and as the saying goes: "salsa that doesn't sting is not salsa. So, you can be sure that when you add salsa verde to your tacos or chilitos toreados to your carne asada, that rich flavor is achieved with an excellent green chile.