Red Chili Ristras

Chile Ristras. Photo: Katherine Chilton

Ristras hang in front of homes throughout the mid Rio Grande valley in the fall. Stringing the chilis together with twine when freshly picked is a useful way to dry them. After dried, they can be crushed into a powder and used in recipes calling for red chili pepper. Chilis are not actually peppers, but instead are in a genus and family related to tomatoes, eggplant, and tobacco.

Chilis are a “New World” plant. They have been grown for millennia by Indigenous people in both North and South America and used for seasoning and as medicine. Capsaicin, found in chili, is particularly useful to treat pain and is in many of our current over-the-counter creams.

The “heat” of chilis is measured in Scoville units and felt by the capsaicin receptors in our mouth, nose and stomach. If you want to gauge how hot a chili might be, cut one open and look at the lining. If it is pale, the chili will be milder than if the lining is orange.