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Borderlands: Men Behind the Chile Pepper (with 2017 update)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

Men Behind the Chile Pepper (with 2017 update)

By Janis McPhilomy (Article first published in Vol. 9, 1991)

Update 2017

At New Mexico State University, scientists have been working hard to improve the quality of chiles on the market. Fabián García, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) for 30 years, was the first researcher to introduce new chiles to the market.

""Image caption: Dr. Roy Nakayama developed new varieties of chiles at NMSU for more than 30 years. (Photo courtesy of New Mexico State University Library, Archives and Special Collections)

Born in Mexico, García earned his bachelor’s degree in 1894 and a master’s degree in 1905 from the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (later NMSU) with further graduate work at Cornell University.

García’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 García 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 eight children of immigrant Japanese parents. As a child, he picked chiles out of his father’s truck farm.


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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 30 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 foot 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 with which it is mixed.

""Image caption: Dr. Paul Bosland directs NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute. (Photo courtesy of the Chile Pepper Institute)

Taking over the project after Nakayama retired in 1986, 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’s 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 said. 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. According to Bosland, “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 said. 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), Roy Nakayama and Paul Bosland, the chile industry has grown into amajor business in New Mexico, filling the increasing demand for new species of chile.


Many Americans use topical ointments that contain capsaicin today, and for many of us, salsa is a part of our daily diet. Our articles on the chile pepper’s cultural and economic importance to our region were published in 1991, and the topic and our region’s importance in its growth have continued to expand.

The Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU was established in 1992 with Dr. Paul Bosland at the helm, and he remains active as NMSU Regents Professor of Horticulture and director of the Institute. The institute’s website ( describes itself as “the only international, non-profit organization devoted to education and research related to Capsicum, or chile peppers.”

The institute’s offices are at Gerald Thomas Hall, Room 265, on the NMSU Las Cruces campus. The institute maintains a teaching/demonstration garden open to the public in the summer and fall at 113 West University Ave.

The Institute hosts an annual New Mexico Chile conference and participates at international chile and European plant breeding conferences. Its website hosts a wealth of research papers, newsletters and presentations going back decades, along with statistics and a public interface explaining the history of the chile, NMSU cultivars (of which there are MANY), and much more. The Institute and its work have been publicized in national media outlets in areas such as philanthropy, gardening, cuisine, business and travel, including being touted as one of the “best nerd field trips” in Popular Science in 2016.

We reported in 1991 on predictions from the El Paso Times of salsa sales reaching almost $800 million by 1993. We can now report that according to IBISWorld, pre-made salsa is a $3 billion industry largely due to the rise of per capita disposable income which allows people to buy snack products, the consumer demand for Hispanic cuisine and a more global taste palette in American consumers. Business Insider in October 2013 called salsa “America’s favorite condiment.”

See related articles from this issue below.

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