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Burning Question: Where Can You Study Chile Peppers?

In New Mexico, these pungent peppers are more than just a mouthful of heat. They are celebrated, researched and improved.

By Kevin Litwin on November 12, 2021

chili peppers in New Mexico
iStock.com/ASADYKOV

New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces is home to the Chile Pepper Institute, formed in 1992 with a mission to continue improving chile peppers in New Mexico and throughout the world. (New Mexico has two state vegetables – the chile and the frijole, or pinto bean.)

Besides being a source of food, the chile is best known for its chemical compound called capsaicin that is used in pain relief patches and ointments to relieve muscle aches and pains.

What Is a Chile Pepper?

The chile is a pungent pepper that can range from the mildest bell to the hottest habanero. It is rich in vitamins A and C and comes in a variety of colors, including red, green, white, purple and orange.

NMSU’s overall connection to the chile dates to 1888 when scientist Fabian Garcia established the Chile Pepper Breeding & Genetics Program at the university, which still exists today. The institute is currently located on campus in Gerald Thomas Hall in Room 265, and visitors are welcome to tour the facility.

One key highlight of the institute is the Amy Goldman Fowler Teaching Garden, which features about 150 varieties of peppers. The public is welcome to visit the garden any day of the week during its main growing season from June through October.

To further celebrate the chile, the institute hosts an annual New Mexico Chile Conference every February. Topics covered during the 2021 conference included COVID-induced marketing trends as well as new information on mechanization, innovations and disease/pest updates.

Researchers at the conference reported that progress continues for developing ultra-hot chile peppers whose extracts can be used as extreme heat compounds in medicine.

The Chile Pepper Institute also has an online shop that sells food, seeds, books, apparel and other merchandise.

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