Chile has long been a cultural artifact of New Mexico. When chile plants crossed the border centuries ago, they became a staple crop of local Native American populations, and some of the heirloom plants grown in the state today trace their roots back as far as 500 years ago, with seeds passed from one generation to another.
All of this means that chiles mean a lot to New Mexico, and their identity is closely tied with our state. Part of this is practical: chiles grown under certain circumstances, including soil quality and moisture, will taste different than those grown elsewhere. This gives New Mexico chiles a unique flavor profile. On the other hand, “green chile” has become synonymous with New Mexico (and particularly Hatch) in a way that has nothing at all to do with the actual chiles and more to do with the legacy of chile in New Mexico.
New Mexico’s Chile Identity
Some restaurants and food brands might try to boost the apparent authenticity of their dishes by claiming that they are selling “New Mexico chile” or “Hatch green chile.” Thanks to legislature, these claims cannot be made unless they are verifiably true: You cannot claim that something is New Mexico chile if it’s not actually grown in New Mexico.
However, there are still plenty of ways to sidestep this issue, such as using terms like “New Mexico style chile” – a tactic that still invokes the idea of New Mexico’s chile culture without running afoul of the law.
A Complicated Issue
The issue of chile naming is more complicated than you might expect, because the New Mexico chile industry itself is struggling to keep up with outside competition. As chile becomes increasingly popular and well-known worldwide, there is a greater demand than ever for it – but local chile growers aren’t always able to meet that demand or profit from it.
The Chile Guy strives for authenticity and quality above all else. We sell chiles with the best and most authentic flavor – which sometimes means selling chiles grown in surprising places. But for us, quality supersedes name branding. That said, we’ll do our part to help New Mexico’s chile economy stay strong as long as quality product keeps being grown in our region!