Chile’s identity crisis: Fruit or berry

By Helena Rodriguez

The burning question in Santa Fe right is how to label our precious red and green chile peppers.

This is not a mild matter for us chile-chomping Nuevo Meji-canos. But in a strange twist, the debate over our fiery state vegetable has turned fruity. And I do mean fruity. A bill was introduced in the House that could turn our official state vegetable into our official state fruit.
Yes, I said fruit.

With the threat of a prolonged or special legislative session always hanging in the air, la not to worry, as Tex-Mex singer Nick Villarreal would say. Our state legislatures have been hard at work tackling hot issues such as this.

Proving they are also full of hot air, our state Legislature is also working to designate the hot-air balloon as our official state aircraft. What state would be complete without an official state aircraft?

Now let’s get back to the burning issue at hand, our state’s greatest natural resource — the chile pepper. Some experts say that because the chile pepper originates from the flower of a plant, that it is really a fruit. Vegetables are defined as the edible parts of a plant, such as the roots or leaves, according to a story in The Santa Fe New Mexican.

But wait, it gets even better. Some botanists are taking this a step further and believe that our beloved chile pepper is actually a berry. Just think, all of this time that we thought we were eating chile rellenos, we were really eating fried berry pies.

Now, if you want an expert opinion from yours truly, a lifelong Nuevo Mejicana (not counting the 2 1/2 years I spent in Texas complaining about their wannabe chile), here’s what I think: First of all, we must ask ourselves, is chile something we would enjoy topped with whipped cream like the strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and other members of this elite berry clan? Is chile something we would want blended into a frozen smoothie kind of drink like other fruit?

I think not, so why make the chile pepper a berry? Our sizzling chile peppers would have an image problem, to say the least. Let’s just leave our chile pepper alone and let people like me, who live in a land of enchantment, continue to think of our chile pepper as a veggie. By the way, our chile pepper currently shares the honor with the pinto bean as being our official legume, a.k.a.. veggie. I didn’t realize there were so many different terms for vegetables.

I don’t like the idea of chile being classified as a fruit, period. Of course we could change our official state question from “red or green?” to “Have you had your Vitamin C today?” But just try and squeeze chile peppers into a glass. Then there’s the important matter of salsa. Would these sauces have to be called jellies, jams or preserves?

Think about what’s at stake here, people.

It’s kind of like the old “You say potato, I say potahto; you say tomato, I say tomahto” adage. Maybe it doesn’t really matter whether we call our chile pepper a fruit or a veggie, just so there’s plenty on the side to spice up our meals. On the other hand though, why complicate matters? It’s tough enough sometimes just trying to decide between red and green.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: