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Hot stuff.

CHILE HISTORY WAS MADE at the National Fiery-Foods and Barbecue Show held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in March--and as expected, the news was hot.

The 2008 show saw the introduction of the Bhut Jolokia pepper, or "ghost chile" in the Assam region of India where it originates. The pepper was unleashed to the rest of the world last year, and several vendors at the famed Fiery-Foods Show used it in sauces and salsas for the first time this year.

Though that particular variety hails from India, the chile pepper is native to the Americas, where people throughout the tropical regions have cultivated it for thousands of years. It's now part of worldwide cultures.

The Chile Pepper Institute--a research arm of New Mexico State University (NMSU) specializing in the study of the Capsicum genus--offered event goers information about Bhut Jolokia as well as seeds. It was at the research institute that the new variety was tested; it earned a rating of just over one million Scoville Heat Units, making it "the hottest pepper in the world," according to Guinness World Records.

Danise Coon, of the Chile Pepper Institute, said her organization sold more than 5,000 seed packets during the 2007 growing season, the first year the seeds were widely available outside of India. Several Jolokia products are now on the market. Tom and Dawn Beasley of the Montego Bay Trading Company have released a 1.5-ounce shaker bottle of ground Jolokia pods and a 5-ounce "Hell's Inferno" hot sauce. Other products include "Dragon's Blood" from the United Kingdom.

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Peru's fiery entry came via Rancho Bravo's Siempre Calidad salsa and hot sauce. Owner Christopher Underwood said his products are 100 percent natural and 100 percent Peruvian.

Show producer Dave DeWitt, who's also known in chile circles as the "Pope of Peppers," said the annual event has grown in international flavor thanks to vendors from Peru, Mexico, South Africa, and Liberia. DeWitt has written articles and books devoted to chile, and the Fiery-Foods show was his brainchild.

About 15,000 people took in the three-day trade show this year. Although exhibitors offer numerous chile-related gadgets, posters, and clothing, the main attraction is the largest collection of hot and spicy products ever assembled in the United States. In addition to the usual salsas, these include candies, honeys, chips, pestos, nuts, snacks, soups, salad dressings, mustards, beans, ketchup, and even chile wine jelly.

When visitors weren't sampling the sauces and burning their taste buds off, some were getting a crash course in Capsicum from experts at the Chile Pepper Institute--one of the 200 exhibitors this year and one of the few that offered a taste of nothing but knowledge. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1992, is devoted to education, research, and archiving information about chiles. It also collaborates with the NMSU Chile Breeding and Genetics Program to preserve the genetic material, or germplasm, of both cultivated and wild species of chile, and to advance the studies of chile pepper diseases, thus helping farmers protect their crops and their livelihoods.

"Chile is not just a Southwestern plant," said Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute. "Varieties are grown all over the world for many uses. For some, growing peppers is their way of life. We participate in the Fiery-Foods Show to help people understand the various uses of chile throughout the world. But we also know that most people who come to this show are here for tasting. Our education is second to that, but that's OK."

While many vendors made sure they had a wide spectrum of products to taste, from mild to en fuego, Patti DiBello of Captain Spongefoot Trading Company from Aurora, Colorado, was putting flavor ahead of heat. He didn't care that he was leaving out the world's hottest variety in his chile recipes.

"Unlike some of the others here, we're about flavor first," DiBello said. "We're not someone's bottled-up anger. We're not someone's scorned woman, nor are we a painful body function. We want our sauces to taste good, and we think they do."
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Title Annotation:Bhut Jolokia pepper
Author:Armijo, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:May 1, 2008
Words:677
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