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Chiltepin Pepper

Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Chiltepin Pepper As the only wild native chile to the US, the Chiltepin is sometimes called the "mother of all peppers.” Known by many names—Chiltepin, Chile Tepin, Chile del Monte, Chillipiquin, a'al kokoli (O'odham), Chiltepictl (Nahuatl), Amash (Mayan)—the Chiltepin is widely used throughout the southwestern region of the US. This pepper grows naturally in canyons from West Texas through southern Arizona. One of the great Chiltepin varieties available to gardeners is the McMahon’s Texas Bird Pepper.

The Chiltepin has a long history in the US/Mexico borderlands, and has been traditionally used as a food, medicine, and vermifuge and mythic icon. There is considerable folklore associated with these plants. Historically, no kitchen table of Sonorans, Opatas, O'odham or Yaqui rural homes would be without a bottle of dried chiltepines. The wild harvest is a seasonal ritual in many rural communities to this day, where families make chile-harvesting camps in the mountains during the heat of September and early October in order to harvest the wild peppers.

The Chiltepine is a very small chile in size with an extremely pungent flavor. It is rated very hot—8-9 on pungency scales—and has a quite distinctive smoky bite. The Chiltepin is eaten sun-dried, added to cheese and ice creams, fermented into sauces, and pickled with wild oregano, garlic, and salt as a tabletop condiment. The green or dried red fruit are often mixed with range fed carne machaca from cattle or deer to preserve the meat, or wild greens and onions as a typical Sonoran dish.

The Chiltepin pepper has not become completely obsolete thanks to sustainable harvests and cultural stewards of the pepper. The peppers are wild-harvested, hand picked, and organic. Even with such care for the Chiltepine, there remains less than 15 known localities in the US that serve as natural habitats for wild chiles. They are protected in the US in Coronado National Forest, Big Bend National Park and Organpipe Cactus National Monument.

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