Chilli Pepper Institute
Chilli Pepper Institute
Established in 1992, the Chile Pepper Institute is till date the only international, non-profit organization that is wholly devoted to research, education and archiving information related to Capsicum or chilli peppers. It is located on the main campus of the New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces and is officially known as the Chile Pepper Institute Centre for Chilli Education.
The Institute conducts research on higher yield, improved disease resistance and better flavors of the crop. It aims to be an authoritative source on all information related to Capsicum and fields hundreds of questions every week from growers, researchers, producers and home gardeners.
It has continued the research and archiving work on chilli peppers that was started by Fabian Garcia, a renowned horticulturalist and widely considered as the father of the US chilli pepper industry. Fabian Garcia began standardising chilli pepper varieties in 1888, which made for improved varieties and more specific categorisation of species.
Recently, the Institute joined hands with the New Mexico State University Chile Breeding and Genetics Program to advance the studies of chilli pepper diseases and to preserve chilli germplasm of cultivated as well as wild species. Through this collaboration, the Institute aims to educate the world about the different chilli varieties developed and released at NMSU.
The Chile Pepper Institute encourages visitor to tour their campus. During a tour, you will discover detailed and informative chilli pepper books, chilli research posters, art and numerous in-demand, hard-to-find varieties of chilli pepper seeds.
The Chile Library houses more than 600 books in addition to the Institute's Hall of Flame, chilli art, displays on current NMSU chilli research, a chilli plant grow cart, books, seeds, posters and other chilli-related educational exhibits.
In the garden you can find over 150 different varieties of Chile peppers, from the mildest bell to the hottest habanero in an outstanding variety of pod shapes. The garden also reveals many of the different pests, disorders, diseases, and other problems that beset chilli growers.
The Horticulture Centre hosts a seasonal public teaching and touring garden every year, which showcases about 100 to 200 different varies of chilli peppers from across the world and at NMSU, including the well known, "NuMex Big Jim," "NuMex Piñata" and "NuMex Twilight"
Although the selection cultivated and showcased in the garden very year are endless. The garden is transplanted in early May, and it takes about a month for the pods to start developing and growing. By early June, the garden is ready for visitors to start enjoying its beauty. Although the garden is open to visitors right through to November, the best time to visit is from late July to late September.
These are some of the varieties developed and cultivated at the Chile Pepper Institute
NuMex Big Jim
Big Jim holds pride of place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest chilli ever grown. The pods are large and meaty with medium to hot heat level.
NuMex Heritage Big Jim
Heritage Big Jim is one of the most famous of the NMSU cultivars. The Heritage Big Jim is an improved variety with pods that yield 10% more than the old Big Jim and have 5 times more flavour compounds too. The pods also have a more consistent hot heat level as compared to the older variant.
NuMex Twilight (pictured right)
One of the most famous varieties, coming top in Which trials for best outdoor chilli. Hot little pods and a beautiful ornamental plant as well, with little teardrop pods of all colours of the rainbow present on the plant at the same time.
This is a new Sandia variant with superior flavour, uniform high heat level, higher yield with a thicker fruit wall and better uniformity amongst the plants and pods.
One of the latest additions to the NMSU family, this is an improved quality jalapeno with higher disease resistance than its predecessors.
NuMex April Fool's Day
An ornamental chilli pepper developed by the NMSU, this is a small compact plant. The pods transform from purple to red as it matures giving it a very showy look.
NuMex Cinco de Mayo
This ornamental chilli pepper has long thin pods that transform from yellow to red giving the plant a showy look.
NuMex Chinese New Year
In this ornamental chilli pepper the bullet shaped pods grow in clusters pods and go from green to red as they mature.
NuMex Veteran's Day
An ornamental chilli pepper plants with pods that change colour from violet to burnt orange as they mature.
The centennial was developed to mark 100 years of the New Mexico State University. Fruits transition from purple to yellow, orange, and red at different stages giving it a colourful look throughout.
The conquistador pods have a mild heat level with good yield
NuMex Heritage 6-4
Improved variety with a consistent medium heat level, pods that yield 10% more than the old 6-4 and has 5 times more flavor compounds
The Jalmundo is the NMSU’s new jumbo jalapeno with large, meaty pods.
NuMex Piñata (pictured left)
The Piñata is similar to a jalapeno in size, flavour and hotness, except that it is multicoloured with the pods changing from bright green to bright yellow to orange finally to red.
NuMex Suave Red & Suave Orange
The Suave Red and Suave Orange are mild habaneros with only ~800 SHU and regular chinense flavour. The only between these variants is their colour.
Trials On Superhot Chillies
As expected, at the Chilli Pepper Institute all kinds of chilli-related activities go on non-stop. Researchers are constantly trying to breed new varieties, looking for ways to improve the flavour or hardiness of old varieties or engaged in heated discussions related to which is the hottest chilli in the world. It seems like every time any chilli variety is declared as the hottest there is a collective uproar from all other chilli growers, with every one having different points of contention. The latest heated discussion revolves around the trials of super hot chillies held 2011-2012.
After several months of research during 2011-2012, the chilli experts at the Chile Pepper Institute identified the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilli as the new hottest variety on the planet.
The golf ball-sized Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilli scored the highest Scoville heat rating when compared to several other chilli breeds that had earlier held the title of hottest chilli in the world. Its average heat of the peppers topped more than 1.2 million units on the Scoville heat scale, while some peppers from some individual plants reached almost 2 million heat units.
Several interested parties that included seed producers, hot sauce makers and others in the spicy food industry pushed researchers into establishing mean heat levels for super-hot pepper varieties in an effort to invalidate unscientific claims about which peppers were actually the hottest. This was the first effort of its kind.
The question that was on everyone’s mind was whether or not the Chile Pepper Institute would be able to establish the benchmark for comparing chilli heat. This is because chilli heat is dependent on several different factors and basing decisions on a single fruit that’s a record holder resulted in too many inconsistencies.
In an attempt to set a more viable standard, the research team at the Chile Pepper Institute planted about 125 plants each of the the 7-pot, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Bhut Jolokia, Chocolate 7-pot and the Trinidad Scorpion. The Bhut Jolokia was an ex- record holder of world’s hottest chilli title. It was identified by the institute and certified by Guinness World Records in 2007.
For this research, mature fruits were randomly selected from several plants within each variety. These plucked fruits were harvested, dried and ground to powder. The capsaicinoids, which are the compounds that produce the heat sensation in chillies, were then extracted and examined.
All of these varieties produce such hot fruit that the research specialists in charge of picking the peppers had to change their gloves 4 times during the process as the capsaicin kept going through the latex and burning the skin on their hands.
The results of this research showed that chilli peppers of the same variety can have different heat levels depending on environmental conditions. If there was more stress on a plant by way of less water or hotter temperatures, the fruit would be hotter than plants that were grown in cooler climates and received adequate water had lower heat levels.