Article first published in Vol. 9, 1991. See 2017 update!
By Janis McPhilomy
At New Mexico State University, scientists have been working hard to improve the quality of chiles on the market. Fabian Garcia, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) for thirty years, was the first researcher to introduce new chiles on the market.
Born in Mexico, Garcia attended NMSU as an undergraduate in 1981. He received his master's from Cornell University, an honorary doctorate in agronomy from NMSU and another in science from the University of New Mexico.
Image caption: Dr. Roy Nakayama
Garcia's main research interest was to make chiles milder for people who are not accustomed to fiery peppers. He introduced the first scientifically developed chile, New Mexico No.9. This is a mild pepper that was popular with growers until the 1950s when it was replaced with the New Mexico No.6. The No.6 is a dual-purpose chile suitable for use in both green and red forms.
When Garcia died, he left his entire estate to NMSU and provided for scholarships for Mexican-American youths.
Dr. Roy Nakayama followed Garcia in the development of new chiles. Born in the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico's chile bowl, Nakayama was one of the eight children of immigrant Japanese parents. As a child he picked chiles out of his father's truck farm.
He received his undergraduate degree from NMSU and earned his master's and doctorate in horticulture, plant pathology and breeding from Iowa State University. For over thirty years Nakayama worked at NMSU developing new chiles that produced high yield and high quality peppers. To keep up with the rising demand for hot peppers, Nakayama developed the NuMex Big Jim. The Big Jim is a food long and hotter than the Anaheim variety. This pepper was developed for the canning industry, according to Dr. Paul Bosland, a professor at NMSU. The larger pod has a large yield at less cost per acre than other varieties. It takes less labor to pick a big pepper than a small one, and the Big Jim is hotter than the more popular varieties.
Dr. Nakayama also developed the NUMex R. Naky, which is a large, mild-flavored chile high in extractable color. The R. Naky was developed to give the farmers of New Mexico a chance to get into the paprika market. Paprika is a mild chile powder used as a food coloring that doesn't change the taste of the food it is mixed with.
Image caption: Dr. Paul Bosland
Taking over the project after Nakayama retired in 1984, Dr. Paul Bosland continued to develop new chiles for the growing market. Born in New Jersey, he attended the University of California at Davis where he received bachelor and master's degrees and went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for his Ph. D. in plant breeding and plant genetics with a minor in plant pathology. Dr. Bosland has developed many different varieties of chiles for eating and ornamentation.
The NuMex Sunrise, Sunset and Eclipse were developed for ornamental use, Bosland says. They come in orange, yellow and brown to make multicolor ristras. The NuMex, Sunglow, Sunflare and Sunburst, which have smaller pods, come in red, yellow and orange for making mini ristras. Bosland also developed the small NuMex Centennial, which can be grown as a potted plant.
For the purpose of eating there is a NuMex Conquistador, Bosland says. "It has all the flavor of a chile pepper but with no heat." For making paprika he developed the NuMex Sweet, and this year released the NuMex Bailey Piquín. This is a small and very pungent pepper for those who enjoy the fiery piquín peppers. "The uniqueness of this pepper is that it can be machine harvested', Bosland says. Most of the other new varieties of peppers are handpicked when harvested.
Thanks to men like Albert Curry, (who succeeded Garcia as director of the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES), Roy Nakayama and Paul Bosland, the chile industry has grown into a major business in New Mexico, filling the increasing demand for new species of chile.