This bright red chili offsets its size with power and is a staple on the Northwest tables of the country.
The most precious culinary treasure of my Sonoran neighbor fits in a small jar: they are tiny dry, red, and circular chiltepines. A couple of months ago he prepared a beef broth and when serving it, he placed a small plate with this dry chili. Before starting the feast, he explained to us that you have to take it and crush it with your fingers, then sprinkle it on the plate. Every time he goes to his homeland, he makes sure to bring a supply because he knows that chiltepin from other regions does not taste the same.
Due to its great value in Sonora, it is known as “red gold” because of its cost – it can cost up to $ 1,200 pesos per kilo – and because of the importance, it has in their culture. In the north, it is common to find this small round red chili on all tables. It can accompany both eggs with dried beef. It is a staple of the region.
Its scientific name is Capsicum annum and it grows in almost the entire American continent —from the USA to South America— almost always near the coasts; As it is a practically wild crop, its flavor changes depending on the region where it grows, in other places it is known as chile piquín, chile amashito or ají pajarito. What does not change is its color and its perfect spherical shape. Although the most common presentation is as dry chili, it can also be eaten fresh, when it is still green and is used for sauces and pickles.
The Sonoran chiltepin bush grows in the south of the state, near the Sonora River, it is short but with many thin twigs from which the chili peppers hang. It tends to grow under the mesquite, as the shade of these large trees provides an optimal environment for its growth. They are grown mainly from the end of September to November, which is when the fruit is just ripe. Drying takes one more week.
During the drought between 2009 and 2011, the shortage of chiltepín caused a rise in the price. Another reason for its high cost is that it is not an easy product to grow and its flavor changes when it is not wild. In addition, its dissemination depends on the birds that eat the fruit and then throw the seeds in their feces.
Although it has a reputation for being very spicy, it has actually only been rated at 100 to 200 thousand degrees on the Scoville scale – for a point of comparison, the habanero pepper has a rating between 350 and 580 thousand degrees -. If you have tried it, you will know that it does have a good degree of spiciness, in Sonora, it is even common to use a chiltepinero, which is a small mortar to prevent capsaicin from burning your hands.
Whether with machaca, in a bean taco, in a menudo, or a classic aguachile from the Northwest coast, chiltepín is an ingredient that not only adds a bit of heat to the dishes, but is part of the identity of the region. .