The best chile in the galaxy is still in New Mexico

Growing green chile in space is a huge achievement, but NASA hasn’t yet caught up with traditional roasting technology

By: - November 6, 2021 12:03 pm

Green chile floats while Expedition 66 crew members conduct a taste test as part of research aboard the International Space Station. The chile started growing on July 12, 2021 — one of the longest and most challenging plant experiments attempted aboard the orbiting laboratory. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Green chile is in space, but it will take more time for science to catch up to roasting the pepper so it can give its best-quality taste. 

“We only have a warming oven onboard that goes to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, so we could make them warm, but we couldn’t really roast them. So we elected to just eat them raw,” NASA astronaut Megan McArthur said in an interview with Source NM and other outlets from space. “We all tasted them both, the red and the green. And they have a nice spiciness to them, a little bit of a lingering burn. Some found that more troublesome than others.”

NASA astronaut and Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Megan McArthur poses with the crop of chile peppers being grown as part of the Plant Habitat-04 investigation inside the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) aboard the International Space Station. This is the first time chile peppers are being grown aboard the orbiting laboratory. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

This week NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts had a taco party complete with space-grown chile, using the seeds of an Española Valley variety. A celebratory moment for space science and the residents of Earth from the chile mothership in New Mexico. 

For folks outside the state: People in New Mexico eat red or green chile three meals a day sometimes. Easy. 

But as McArthur admitted live from the space station, the chile was  not roasted, and as every quality New Mexican knows, these peppers must be cooked and peeled before eating. 

Take it from the New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute”

“The most important step in processing green chile is removing the outer skin, which is necessary before further cooking or canning,” according to the experts. “Be sure the heat source is very hot. Turn chiles frequently to prevent scorching and ensure even blistering. Once the skins are evenly blistered, remove chiles from heat and spread out on a flat surface in a single layer to cool before peeling.”

(And wear gardening gloves or something when you do it. And don’t rub your eyes until you wash your hands a bunch. It can get pretty bad.)

Of course, this all changes in space, where open flames are not to be introduced.

Red chile floating above a cutting board during the tasting of peppers grown as part of the Plant Habitat-04 investigation aboard the International Space Station. The chile started growing on July 12, 2021. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

NASA scientists said they did have a microwave on the ISS that could reach temperatures at about 180 degrees. Sadly, that’s well below the threshold to ignite the  capsaicin in the peppers that activate the best flavor, let alone shed the skin for tastier consumption. 

Experts at NMSU suggest peppers should be cooked at a temperature of at least 450 degrees. 

Despite the rawness of their chile, astronauts on the ISS said they enjoyed their taco meal with the space spice. 

“We did all enjoy them. And the tacos were very tasty. It’s really nice to have something that smells so fresh, and then has the nice crunch of a fresh vegetable as well,” McArthur said. “So it was a real treat for us.”

The NASA astronauts will return to earth early next week. However the toilet on their ship back home is not working. 

(NASA would not confirm if that malfunction had anything to do with the green chile.)

Maybe someone can bust out some roasting drums on the landing pad so the astronauts can be greeted with that smell wafting around New Mexico from farm stands and grocery store parking lots when the year’s harvest comes in. 

QUESTION FOR NM READERS: Would you live on a space station, even if you could only eat unroasted chile? Tweet us @source_nm and we may include your responses in an upcoming article.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.