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chile harvest Chile harvest in Zacatecas.

Mexico leads world in chile consumption

But produces only half the domestic demand

Chocolate and chiles both have their origins in Mexico, but while the former ranks low in domestic consumption, chiles are consumed with abandon, judging by statistics.

One study found that the average Mexican eats a whopping eight or nine kilograms of chiles a year, making it the world’s leading consumer. Perhaps that’s why Mexico produces only half its domestic requirements — it can’t keep up with the demand.

China leads the world in the production of fresh chiles, and supplies Mexico with half its needs, while India is the leading producer of dried chiles.

Mexico’s annual fresh chile production is nearly 2.3 million tonnes, most of it coming from the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí. Dried chile production amounts to 110,000 tonnes annually, putting it in eighth place among producing countries.

Chile producers believe they should be able not only to supply domestic demand but export one-quarter of their crop as well. Producers’ spokesman Salvador López Rodríguez observes that Mexico’s chile crops are certified under international rules, but much of the imported product is not.

The United States is Mexico’s biggest customer, taking 99% of exports, and one of the more popular, yet tame, varieties is the jalapeño, whose exports amount to 431,000 tonnes.

However tame the jalapeño might be on measurement scales such as the Scoville (it comes in between 2,500 and 8,000 units, compared to 100,000 or more for the powerful habanero), it is surprisingly popular.

A survey of 1,287 people in the central valleys of Oaxaca in 2012 revealed that the chile of choice for 38% was the jalapeño, while the next closest was chile de árbol at 19%.

However, tastes changed somewhat when people were asked which of the regional chiles they preferred. Chile de agua, a more respectable variety in terms of heat and one that is native to the the state, won hands down with 67%.

According to Wikipedia, chiles were domesticated more than 6,000 years ago in Mexico, well ahead of chocolate, said to date back some 3,000 years.

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