( Courtesy Melissa's )

Chili peppers may be available from Mexico year-round, but summer is the time for U.S. peppers to shine.

From June through October, producers — primarily in California, the rest of the Sunbelt and a few other states — grow spicy treats like jalapeños, serranos, Anaheims and poblanos.

In all, about 36 varieties of chili peppers are available in the U.S., said Robert Schueller, director of publicity for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce.

The popularity of chili peppers has spread throughout the nation as Hispanic populations increase, and as more consumers of all ethnicities discover their zesty taste, he said.

Chili pepper sales usually are higher from May to August, said Irene Guzman, marketing manager for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.

“During the summer, grilling is a very popular cooking method,” she said.  
Fresh peppers traditionally are used in salsas, she said, and chili peppers recently have become a more common ingredient with desserts — pairing with fresh fruit and chocolate, for example — and with even cocktails.

“We think (consumers) like the variety of spice levels and flavor profiles as well as their bright colors, which makes them attractive and versatile ingredients,” Guzman said.

Frieda’s sells most of its chili peppers in standup bags and clamshells, she said.

Oxnard, Calif.-based Pacific Coast Produce Inc. planned to start its summer chili pepper crop July 1, assuming weather cooperates, said vice president Derrick Doud.

“Mid-July, we’re going to be full speed ahead on all peppers,” he said.

Cool weather pushed back the start of the crop two to three weeks.

The company grows its peppers on the east side of California’s Santa Maria Valley, which is typically 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the west side, which is closer to the ocean, Doud said.

“They grow exceptionally well,” he said.

Demand for chili peppers is “rising every year,” Doud said.

The company’s program has grown 50% compared to five years ago, he said.

Chili peppers are a good complement to the grower’s green and yellow squash, which account for most of the company’s volume, he said.

Grow Farms Texas LLC, Donna, Texas, distributes chili peppers from Mexico year-round, said Tommy Wilkins, director of sales and business development.

The company is heavily into jalapeño, serrano, poblano and Anaheim peppers and imports some habanero and Hungarian wax peppers as well.

“We see consistent supplies of good product day in and day out,” he said.

In midsummer, chiles from New Mexico’s Hatch Valley take over the No. 1 slot in the chili pepper category, said Chris Franzoy, president of Young Guns Hatch Chile Factory, Hatch, N.M.

“Hatch Valley green chile peppers during the month of August replace the Anaheim peppers that retailers normally would carry,” he said.

And for good reason.

“It’s a flavor that has been unmatched anywhere else in the world.”

Young Guns should start harvesting at the end of July and will continue through October, he said.

“We’re expecting really good quality this season,” he said. “The hot variety will certainly be hot.”

The company also has a large frozen division that supplies Hatch Valley green chiles to retailers and foodservice markets throughout the U.S., he said.

“That business is expanding,” Franzoy added.

Oxford, N.C.-based Bailey Farms Inc. sources most of its summer chili peppers from northern Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, said owner Randy Bailey.

The company offers all the most popular varieties, including jalapeño, poblano, serrano, Anaheim, Hungarian wax, red fresno, finger hot, cherry hot, shishito and habanero, he said.

During the winter, Bailey Farms has an option of sourcing chili peppers from its 600-acre farm in Florida or from growers in Mexico.

There actually are more varieties of dried chili peppers than fresh ones, but dried account for only 10% to 15% of category sales, Schueller said.

World Variety’s top selling dried chili peppers, which are sold under the Don Enrique label, are New Mexico, guajillo, ancho, de arbol and chipotle.

Dried peppers typically don’t have the same name as their fresh counterparts.

“You can’t substitute them in recipes because dried chilies are concentrated,” Schueller said.

For example, a jalapeño pepper that is dried and smoked is called chipotle. An Anaheim pepper is called California chili when it’s dried. And a dried poblano is an ancho.

An exception are the super-hot chili peppers, like ghost and Carolina reaper, which have the same name fresh or dried.

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