A key ingredient that differentiates the mole of Oaxaca from that of the neighboring state of Puebla is in danger of extinction: the cultivation of a particular type of pepper has dwindled to the point where few growers produce it on very little land.
But federal and state governments are working together to rescue the chile huacle negro, or black huacle pepper, an endangered endemic species which is the base ingredient for traditional mole negro.
One kilogram of this particular chile now sells for approximately 1,000 pesos (about US $65) in the Sonora Market in the Federal District. As it becomes increasingly difficult to find, it is being considered more like a gourmet product such as saffron.
The pepper faces several difficulties. In addition to having been cultivated in small plots totaling around four hectares that are only found in one area, the pepper is especially disease-prone. Farmers also blame unfair competition from chiles from Zacatecas that enter the state at lower prices. And now there are but five producers growing chile huacle on barely two hectares.
That production takes place in Cuicatlán in the Cañada region of the state. The mayor of San Juan Bautista Cuicatlán, Jorge Guerrero Sánchez, blames senior governments for not helping to conserve the region’s special pepper.
But there is a plan in place now, according to Gerardo Nivón Cruz, director of agricultural development at the state Agricultural Secretariat, Sedafpa, thanks to help from the federal government. Plus there is research under way at the Technological University of the Valley of Oaxaca, which seeks to improve the pepper’s genetics and make it more resistant to disease.
He said the experimental pepper is being cultivated in a small area in La Cañada in high-tech greenhouses with controlled environments.
The federal Agriculture Secretariat, Sagarpa, says it too has a project in Cuicatlán called “Transformation: packaging and marketing of chile huacle as paste for mole.” The agency says the crop is grown under open sky but beneath shade, with a production cost of 140,000 pesos per hectare. A kilogram of dried pepper sells for 400 pesos, but there was no mention in the report of yield or profit potential.
Meanwhile, mole negro faces another challenge. Oaxaca restaurants and foodies are worried that Puebla will take the name mole negro and call it its own, so they are seeking to have Oaxaca declared as the origin of the black mole sauce.
Celia Florián, president of the Gastronomy League of Oaxaca, said restaurants and gastronomy groups will seek to have a denomination of origin declaration in favor of Oaxaca, so it “can’t be stolen by Puebla.”
She hopes the designation will aid in the rescue of the chile huacle as well, whose production, she says, has been lost due to farmer migrations.
Florián pointed out that Oaxaca has more than 100 catalogued moles — not seven as popular belief has it — which are created from 29 endemic chile peppers. Mole negro utilizes seven native chiles and a “secret recipe, which has resulted in the creation of the king of Mexican moles,” says Florián.
For the gastronome, the chile huacle is indispensable in creating the black, red and yellow moles because of its “incomparable flavor.”
The pepper, known also as chilhuacle, got a boost last October when farmers, the municipality and the Technological University got together and staged the first international Chile Huacle Fair.
Source: Milenio (sp)