My feature on how scientists, chefs, and growers are trying to save this spectacular chilli will appear in Rethink Magazine.

I got the idea for the feature when  visiting a conference on conserving chilhuacle in Cuicatlán in 2014.  Since then I have  kept a dry chilhuacle in a ceramic mug from Puebla to sniff every now then. Even years later, it surpasses some aged wines for its complexity and robustness.

After returning to Spain, the voice of a Mexican chef kept gnawing at me. She said she’d never admit that a chilhuacle from outside the Cañada could make a mole as good as those from the Cañada. Science does not really help here. The only chilhuacle I could find grown commercially outside Mexico are a few scrappy plants grown by two companies here in Spain. Neither sells a dried version, which is what you’d need to do the experiment right.

Still, my curiosity got the better of me and I ordered fresh chilhuacle from one of the growers. Fresh, the chili has a purple tinge to it. When I peeled the skin away to take out some seeds, I caught some dark red matter under my fingernails. I roasted the chilis in the oven, along with some tomatoes, and then blended them together. The resulting salsa was softer, smokier, and more complex than the chilis poblanos and serranos the same grower sent me. My study wasn’t random, controlled, or blind, but it sure smelled and tasted like Oaxaca.

Some additional photos below:

Journalist covering how people use science, markets & serendipity to test new ideas, with a special interest in the developing world