ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (AP) – The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico, United States every fall, wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders.
Now one state lawmaker said it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chilli.
Senator Bill Soules’ visit with fifth grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savoury hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to proudly have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers. “It’s very unique to our state,” the Las Cruces Democrat said of roasting chilli. “I have tried to think of any other state that has a smell or aroma that is that distinctive statewide, and I can’t think of any.”
For New Mexico, chilli is more than a key ingredient for every meal. It’s life. It’s at the centre of the official state question – “Red or green?” – and is one of the state’s official vegetables.
Legislation recognising roasted chilli as the official aroma passed its first committee on Tuesday, and supporters said it’s not likely to fire up much debate – other than lawmakers sharing their own stories about how they can’t go a day without eating it, from red chilli lattes to smothered breakfast burritos to plates of enchiladas and tamales infused with the peppers.
“Chilli is in the hearts and on the plates of all New Mexicans, and the smell of fresh roasting green chilli allows us to reminisce on a memory eating or enjoying our beloved signature crop. We like to call that memory a person’s ‘chilli story’, and each of us as New Mexicans have a chilli story,” said Executive Director of the New Mexico Chilli Association Travis Day.
Officially recognising the aroma could also pay off as another way to market New Mexico to visitors.
A legislative analysis of the bill noted that peak tourist season typically begins in March and tapers down toward the end of October, meaning it overlaps with the time for chilli roasting. The analysis also noted that New Mexico has consistently lower visitation rates than neighbouring Colorado, which reported 84.2 million visitors in 2021 compared with about 40 million in New Mexico.
“The new state aroma could help draw visitors away from Colorado, which, for some reason, thinks it has green chilli comparable to that of New Mexico,” the analysis quipped, in a nod to an ongoing feud between the two states.