Is Southern California's Obsession with Hatch Chiles Coming to an End?

Long may they roast...
Long may they roast...
Dave Lieberman

Last weekend was the final roasting days for many local supermarkets carrying fresh Hatch chiles, those long, green peppers from New Mexico that the uninitiated dismiss as little better than Ortegas but can enchilar as viciously as habaneros. The past couple of years have seen restaurants and produce purveyors such as Melissa's and Frieda's trip over themselves in offering Hatch recipes, Hatch lore, Hatch scent—and, most importantly, Hatch roastings, which see a 25-pound back of chiles lovingly burnt in gargantuan roasters that look like jet engines. Right now in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment smells like one giant, toasted pepper, so this was a particularly nice touch that led to hour-long lines and much media excitement. 

But the Hatch roasts in Southern California this year ended with a whimper, a fitting finale to a disappointing season that has grocery store execs and growers wondering out loud if the our SoCal obsession is over.

"There was barely any demand this year," says one, who requested anonymity. "And it wasn't just for us. Everyone had to drop prices quickly, just to try to make some money. No lines whatsoever."

No one can pinpoint what went wrong this year. Marketing was great as always, and the 2016 harvest was good, if a bit early. But those interviewed by the Weekly point to a market saturation that is getting people tired of Hatch chiles as a trend before they embrace it as a part of their day-to-day lives.

A fresh, hot Hatch chile, object of every New Mexican's food lust.
A fresh, hot Hatch chile, object of every New Mexican's food lust.
Dave Lieberman

"People love to be on what's in, and Hatch chiles have been trendy for years," said a grower. "But now everyone is doing it, and people are already moving on to other things. Mark my words: jackfruit!"

The Weekly hopes Hatch chiles continue to permeate local dining customs, if only to allow New Mexico to get its revenge on the pathetic Anaheim chile. But if SoCal eventually gets over Hatch chiles, it won't be the first time we obsessed over New Mexican cuisine for a couple of years, then unceremoniously dropped it—anyone remember Chimayó at the Beach?


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