Arizonans love the heat. And here in Pinal County much of the heat comes from the food.

From professional and amateur chefs to home cooks whipping up much-loved family recipes, lots of people in Pinal County pride themselves on getting the hotness levels of their favorite foods just right.

And the abundance and variety of spicy peppers and hot chiles in area grocery stores help them do that.

Each year, when the Hatch green chiles arrive in Arizona, it’s a cause for celebration. Arizonans purchase more than 1 million pounds of the chiles, which are only available fresh from August through September, a press release from Bashas’/Food City said.

“The Hatch green chile harvest has become a culinary celebration in the Southwest,” the press release said. “The harvest time frame is limited, so many people stock up during the season and freeze Hatch chiles so they can use them year-round.”

Hatch green chiles are grown in the Hatch Valley of southern New Mexico. The unique flavor of the chile — peppery with a touch of citrus and smokiness — is due to the soil conditions where the plants are grown, according to the press release.

They range in heat level from mild to hot and are sought after to bring flavor and spice to a variety of foods.

“Hatch chiles can become an essential item for people who want to add loads of flavor to any meal or snack,” the press release said.” They can instantly transform food that is bland and boring into something more fun, flavorful and exciting. Hatch chiles have unlimited potential for creative cooks in the kitchen, allowing them to add great flavor to breads, muffins, breakfast burritos, chicken, beef, pork, sausage, meatloaf, pot pies, enchiladas, salsa, even sushi.”

As they can be frozen, customers often purchase them in bulk.

Many Food City and Bashas’ grocery store locations offer free Hatch chile roasting to customers.

While robust and flavorful, Hatch green chiles also have various health benefits. They are good sources of vitamins A, B, E and C. One medium chile has about the same amount of vitamin C as six oranges.

They are also rich in iron and potassium.

“Hatch chiles do not contain fat or cholesterol and help the body’s absorption of cholesterol while remaining low in calories,” information provided by Food City/Bashas’ said. “Hatch chiles contain high amounts of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which supports the cardiovascular system, as well as helps to maintain the health of the skin, eyes and immune system.”

Because they contain capsaicin — the ingredient that gives a pepper its hot chile taste — they can also increase the body’s metabolism.

“When you eat this hot food, the body reacts by raising the thermogenic process, which increases your metabolic rate. The hotness of Hatch chiles causes the release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters in the body that reduce pain and induce euphoria. So, while there is a certain degree of hotness in a dish with these green chiles, it also makes the taste more pleasing and enjoyable,” the grocer said.

Some teas and lozenges are made with chile peppers to treat sore throats.

Peppers are members of the nightshade family of plants, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. There are dozens of varieties of peppers and chiles grown around the globe. In the United States, New Mexico produces more chile peppers than any other state.

“Although they are commonly considered vegetables, peppers are botanically defined as fruit. Each plant can produce as many as 20 pods, or chiles,” information from the grocer said.

There are dozens of varieties of spicy and mild peppers. Many, both fresh and dried, are easy to find locally, so when Hatch green chiles are not available, there are plenty of others to heat up the taste buds.

Among some of the more popular and easily found ones in Pinal County are:

  • Amarillo pepper, a medium chile that also has a sweet, fruity flavor.
  • Anaheim pepper, a mild green pepper well known in its name-sake city, Anaheim, California.
  • Banana pepper, a yellow mild pepper considered tangy with a touch of sweetness.
  • Jalapeño pepper; although it packs a good amount of heat, it’s considered mild compared to some of its counterparts. The jalapeño pepper is usually green and about 2 inches long and thin.
  • Pasilla pepper, long and skinny with an earthy, mildly spicy flavor.
  • Habanero; usually light orange, the habanero is spicy with an almost citrus-like flavor.
  • Scotch bonnet; small and orange, it is among the hottest peppers.
  • Serrano, similar to the jalapeño in size and color, but quite a bit spicier.
  • Poblano (ancho), short, wide and usually dark green, red or brown, they are considered to have a mild heat level, making them popular peppers with local foodies.

Heat-wise, the Hatch green chiles can vary in hotness from that of the milder poblano to the spicier serrano. PW

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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