New Mexico

New Mexico considers roasted chilli as official state aroma

Albuquerque, New Mexico: The sweet smell of green chili being roasted on an open flame permeates New Mexico each fall, wafting from street stalls and grocery store parking lots and triggering delicious visions of culinary wonder.

Now a state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chili.

Senator Bill Soules’ visit to fifth-grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the nation’s first state to proudly have an official state flavor, a proposal currently under consideration is considered by legislators.

“It’s very unique to our state,” the Las Cruces Democrat said of roasting chili. “I’ve tried to think of any other state that has a smell or aroma that’s so distinctive across the country, and I can’t think of one.”

For New Mexico, chili is more than a key ingredient in every meal. So life is. It is at the center of the official state question – “Red or Green?” – and is one of the state’s official vegetables.

Producing more than 60% of the US chili pepper crop in 2021, New Mexico is home to Hatch, a farming village known as the chili capital of the world for the unique red and green peppers it has produced for generations produced. The famous crop is also used in powders, sauces and salsas that are shipped worldwide.

Legislation recognizing roasted chili as an official flavor passed its first committee on Tuesday, and supporters say it’s unlikely to spark much debate – apart from lawmakers, who share their own stories of how they can’t go a day without eating it, from red chili lattes to steamed breakfast burritos to plates of enchiladas and tamales infused with peppers.

“Chili is in the hearts and on the plates of all New Mexicans, and the smell of freshly roasted green chili brings back a memory of eating or enjoying our beloved signature crop. We like to call that memory a person’s ‘chili story,’ and each of us as New Mexicans has a chili story,” said Travis Day, executive director of the New Mexico Chili Association.

Official recognition of the aroma could also pay off as another way to market New Mexico to visitors.

A legal analysis of the bill found that peak tourist season typically starts in March and tapers off towards the end of October, meaning it overlaps with the time for chili roasting. The analysis also found that New Mexico has consistently lower visitor numbers than neighboring Colorado, which recorded 84.2 million visitors in 2021, compared to about 40 million in New Mexico.

“The new state flavor could help lure visitors away from Colorado, which for some reason believes it has green chili on par with that of New Mexico,” the analysis quipped, alluding to an ongoing feud between the two states.

Soules, a former teacher and elementary school principal, used the aroma legislation as an opportunity to educate fifth graders about the legislative process. Students have researched state symbols in New Mexico and elsewhere in preparation to testify on behalf of the bill.

“They learn how to lobby, how to write letters to legislators to support this bill, they practice their public speaking,” Soules said. “They learn a lot about other things as part of their curriculum topic, so it’s a good education too.”

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