It’s time to stock up on fiery peppers from Colorado’s acclaimed chile-growing region. Pueblo chiles often take a back seat to the more name-famous counterparts from the south (looking at you, Hatch), but there’s much to love about our home-grown hotties. Some growers and consumers even argue they’re better on this side of the border. Why? We caught up with Dominic DiSanti, a fifth-generation Pueblo chile grower at DiSanti Farms to find out.
What Makes Pueblo Chiles So Delicious? (And What Is A Pueblo Chile Anyway?)
DiSanti says that Pueblo chiles encompass any variety that’s grown in and around Pueblo and the same goes for Hatch chiles—there’s not one variety that falls under these umbrellas. Instead, the name refers to all the peppers grown in the regions, including varieties of Anaheims, Fresnos, poblanos, and more. The rivalry between Hatch and Pueblo chiles isn’t about one chile at all—it’s about the region.
But there is something we have that Hatch doesn’t. “One of the biggest and most obvious things that sets us apart is the Mirasol pepper, the heirloom variety that was developed here that we’ve been growing for generations,” DiSanti says. “It’s our most popular pepper by far, and it’s a little bit hotter on average than the New Mexican types. It’s a little thicker-meated, and it roasts really well.”
In Spanish, the chile’s name means “looking at the sun,” because the chiles grow with their tips pointing skyward, rather than pointing down. DiSanti says it packs a spicy, meaty punch and holds up well to roasting and freezing. DiSanti says the Mirasols are great for making into green chile, or slathering atop a burger, brat, or even pizza. The chile’s thick flesh and big flavor is due in part to the climate in southern Colorado.
“We just think our climate makes an ideal pepper,” DiSanti says. “Not to say that they don’t do a great job down there [in New Mexico], but I just think our climate is ideal for chiles.”
DiSanti says it’s the region’s dramatic temperature swings between hot days and cool nights that builds this flavor—as well as the clear mountain runoff that waters the crops. “The Pueblo chile growers, we have the slogan, ‘grown with Colorado sunshine and Rocky Mountain water,’” DiSanti says. “Those are two really good ingredients.”
How to Tell How Hot A Chile Is
“Without actually breaking the pepper open, it’s very difficult to determine,” DiSanti says. “But when you break it open, there’s a vein that runs from the seeds to the tip of the pepper, along the pod, and on those veins, that’s where the capsaicin is located. The hotter the pepper, those veins will actually start to change color.” DiSanti explains that on a mild pepper, the veins appear almost white. On a hotter pepper, the capsaicin in the veins turns yellow or orange.
And how hot are the peppers this year?
“We find the hotter, drier years generally make hotter peppers,” DiSanti says. “I’m sure there’s some science behind that, but that’s just what we see.” This year, Pueblo received a lot of rain, but also experienced a hot, dry June. “My original thought going into the season was that they’d be milder. But they’re not,” DiSanti says. “I’d say the Mirasols are a bit hotter on average.”
Meet the Grower
DiSanti is a fifth-generation grower born and raised in Pueblo. He and his brother work on the production side at DiSanti Farm, while his sister is involved in the marketing. DiSanti’s mother oversees the operation, making it a whole-family affair.
Together, the DiSantis farm 60 to70 acres of their signature peppers—“anything from mild, medium, hot, super hot, to inedible hot,” DiSanti says—as well as other vegetables like green onions, radishes, summer squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. At the end of the season, the family even harvests jack-o-lantern pumpkins and ships them around the state.
“We enjoy the lifestyle. We enjoy the work, and we have the greatest employees ever, so it makes it a lot of fun,” DiSanti says. “We know it’s challenging, but to have the consumers and grocery stores look for that local product, it’s kept us in business, so that’s definitely super important to us.”