Why New Mexico Harnessed The Power Of The Sun To Roast Chiles

New Mexico has a rich and unique culinary heritage few other places in the United States can match, and no ingredient is more beloved there than green chiles. According to Specialty Foods, New Mexico's Hatch green chile peppers have a bright, earthy, and grassy flavor when fresh, and a rich, smoky flavor when cooked. These qualities make them a perfect addition to dishes like mac and cheese, or as the stand-out ingredient in green chicken chili stew. It's the rare veggie that's as beloved by locals as it is sought out by tourists, who both flock to diners for burgers and burritos smothered in green chile sauce.

Late August is the beginning of chile season, and few experiences are as quintessentially New Mexican as walking the streets of Santa Fe or Albuquerque in early fall and catching the wafting smell of green chiles roasting in local markets, parking lots, and backyards (per Eater). Traditionally, green chiles are piled in big, rotating steel drums and roasted using propane, giving them their signature blisters and smoky char. Recently though, some locals have begun to experiment with a technique called solar roasting as an alternative to the normal propane.

Solar roasting green chiles cuts down on carbon emissions

New Mexico produces a lot of chiles — 150 million pounds or more — and most of them get roasted, which means using a lot of propane (per Atlas Obscura). All that spent fuel produces 7,800 metric tons of CO2, which is concerning in an arid state as vulnerable to climate change as New Mexico. That's why local engineer Kenneth Armijo helped to devise a solar-power roaster that uses mirrors to create cooking temperatures of over 900 degrees F. Impressively, the cleaner roasting of solar power does not mean sacrificing flavor either, as a taste test showed people actually preferred the solar-roasted chiles to the ones heated by propane.

Eliminating all those carbon emissions while still producing delicious green chiles could go a long way toward keeping Hatch, New Mexico the "Chile Capital of the World," but large-scale solar roasting could have plenty of applications beyond chiles. Modern Farmer says the technology could be just as applicable to things like coffee beans and almonds, two crops that are facing their own major problems with climate change. By turning solar power on their signature food, New Mexico could be leading the way in food sustainability for the entire planet.