Can you tell which these are?
asked questions about green chile which indicate some confusion about
different names used around the country to market peppers. Here's the
scoop as we know it:
A number of chile pepper varieties were grown in New Mexico by the ancient Native American Puebloan peoples. In fact their descendents in modern-day pueblos like Acoma, Isleta, and Zia still raise peppers from seeds passed down for generations. Over the years the cultivation of chile spread to other parts of New Mexico, especially along the Rio Grande river valley. So the term "New Mexico Chile" might describe peppers from a number of localities, like Chimayo in northern New Mexico, famous for its heirloom chile, or down south in Hatch, probably the best-publicized source of New Mexico Chile. Of course, chile is grown in other parts of New Mexico, but without the name recognition of those two. (In fact, the above photo was made almost 20 years ago of some nice chiles we picked in Portales, NM at the farm of a family friend. Turns out the peppers were actually Big Jims, grown from seeds of that variety which is very popular in the Hatch area.)
"Hatch Chile" refers to varieties actually grown in the Hatch Valley region along the Rio Grande, which includes the village of Hatch with its famous annual Chile Festival. Several popular varieties of chile are cultivated there - Big Jim, Joe Parker, Sandia, and others - so the "Hatch" label is not a specific variety of pepper, but more a geographic designation. Local chile lovers do believe however that the combination of soil, water, and climate in the region produce peppers with a distinctive flavor. Also, among the varieties of Hatch chile there are distinct differences in size and level of heat, or spiciness. Most of the chile varieties grown in the region today were developed at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, with pioneering research begun by horticulturist Dr. Fabian Garcia over 100 years ago, and continuing today at The Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU.
To further complicate the picture, many of the chile varieties developed and grown in the Hatch region have been adopted by pepper farmers all around the Southwest. If you see "Hatch Chile" being sold anywhere except actually in the village of Hatch, then it might have been grown in Texas, Arizona, or even Mexico, and in fact, it may not have the slightest connection to Hatch, as enterprising marketers know that the Hatch name sells more peppers, whether in New Mexico or New Jersey.
For those of us who are somewhat "chile snobs", we only believe we're getting genuine Hatch chile if we got our peppers in Hatch, or can otherwise feel assured we're getting peppers grown there.
A Trip to Anaheim...In 1894 a farmer named Emilio Ortega introduced New Mexico chile seeds to Southern California, where they thrived and became known as "Anaheim Chile", probably the most commonly available peppers in the country outside of New Mexico. You'll see Anaheim peppers in supermarkets nearly everywhere fresh chile is sold, even after the New Mexico chile season is over. Our personal experience with Anaheim peppers is that they are generally milder in flavor and lacking the heat of their New Mexico ancestors, which makes them more palatable to a certain range of consumers. We find them a little bland, but then again, we're "chile snobs"!