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Quinn on Nutrition: FAQs about chiles

Monterey County Herald (CA)


"What are you going to do with all this chile?" my friend Amanda asked as I carried a giant box of fresh Hatch green chiles to the car.

I'm going to roast it...and put it in my freezer, I said.

"All of it?"

It's only 30 pounds. When I lived in New Mexico we roasted a 50-pound sack every year.

I didn't expect her to understand. She's from California. And this was the 6th Annual Green Chile Roast for New Mexico State University alumni who now live in California.

It was a nostalgic afternoon. And decades since I've seen Dr. Garrey Carruthers _ former governor of New Mexico and current president of NMSU. He was the faculty adviser for our men's and women's rodeo team when I was a student there.

I reminded him that when he was governor, I visited his office in Santa Fe to encourage his signature on a licensing bill for registered dietitians.

"Did I veto it?" he joked.

You signed it, I said.

Dr. Carruthers later reminded us transplanted alumni that California was once part of New Mexico territory.

"Greetings from the homeland," he announced with a smile.

He also told us that NMSU is the home of the Chile Pepper Institute _ an international organization devoted to education and research related to chile peppers. Visit it here:

I checked it out when I got home. Here are some answers to questions about chile:

Is it "chile" or "chili?" According to the Chile Pepper Institute, "chile" comes from the Aztec word "chilli" that was later changed to "chile" by Spanish-speaking Mexicans and to "chili" in some parts of the United States.

In New Mexico, "chile" describes the plant, as in, "Do you want red or green chile on your enchilada?"

"Chili" is what they eat in Texas _ a dish made of meat, beans, tomatoes and chile powder.

What makes chile hot? Capsaicin (cap-SAY-sin) is the active component in chile peppers. It's a natural irritant and can cause a burning sensation on any part of the body it touches. Many humans, including most who reside in New Mexico, consider this a pleasant feeling.

In what part of the chile plant is capsaicin most potent? Not in the seeds, surprisingly. Most of the "hot stuff" capsaicin is in the white pith of the inner wall of the chile, where the seeds are attached.

What's the hottest chile in the world? As of 2012, it's the "Trinidad Moruge Scorpion" (ouch), according to research conducted at the Institute. How hot? This chile contains enough capsaicin to burn through latex gloves, say brave researchers.

Any nutritional value to chile peppers? You bet. Chile is rich in vitamin C and beta carotene _ potent antioxidants which help protect body cells from damage.

By the way, green chile and red chile are the same plant. Green chiles turn red as they ripen. And red chiles contain more vitamin C than the less ripe green chiles.

What will I do with 30 pounds of roasted green chiles? Use them to make salsa. And green chile stew. Add them to scrambled eggs ... and everything else that needs a kick.

Any other interesting fact about chile peppers? Why yes: A 2006 article in Nature magazine reported that the venom of a certain species of tarantula (a poisonous spider) activates the same pain pathway that is activated by capsaicin.

Why do New Mexicans make such a big deal about green chile? I guess you just have to live there.


(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of the "Diabetes DTOUR Diet" (Rodale 2009) and the "Diabetes DTOUR Diet Cookbook" (Rodale 2010). Email her at


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