Industry group: Don’t settle for fake Hatch chile

The New Mexico Chile Association has a New Mexico Certified Chile program to distinguish genuine Hatch chile from "fake" Hatch chile grown elsewhere. Courtesy of New Mexico Chile Association.

Hatch is synonymous with green chile, but what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.

The New Mexico Chile Association believes as much as half of the chile promoted as Hatch chile grows neither in Hatch nor in New Mexico.

And that could put the Hatch chile industry in jeopardy.

The Hatch region chile industry in Doña Ana and Luna counties harvests about 8,100 acres — a far cry from the peak of 34,500 acres in 1992 or the current estimated yield on 90,000 acres in Chihuahua, Mexico, said Gene Baca, the association’s president and co-founder.

NAFTA turned the tide against Hatch chile, and Baca’s association since 2014 has sought to rebuild Hatch chile output with its New Mexico Certified Chile program. Participating restaurants and supermarket produce and freezer sections have certified chile labeling.

“We want to help consumers distinguish between real and fake New Mexican chile,” said Baca, senior vice president at Bueno Foods, an Albuquerque chile processor. “It’s a program for consumers. They just have to look or ask for the certification. If they don’t do that, the industry could go away.”

New Mexico chile production has edged up from 7,700 acres in 2014.

“I know chile farmers are willing to double or triple the acres” to 16,000 or 24,000 acres if more consumers gravitate toward certified chile, Baca said.