'Chile de Agua': An Unknown Heirloom Chile from Oaxaca

| 1/14/2016 10:18:00 AM

Chile de Agua Display

The Chile de Agua is a little known heirloom chile from Oaxaca, Mexico, grown in a small valley for at least three centuries and is slowly becoming better known and more popular in the US. It is one of the chile varieties grown in the ancient Milpa system of community gardening with companion planting using corn, beans, squash, amaranth, sunflowers and chile to feed and sustain the people in the community.

It is very much a local chile, until recently only grown in the valley of Oaxaca (wa-HA-ca) just north of the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is not grown commercially, so the production is relatively small and rarely makes it out of the surrounding area, explaining why so few people have gotten to know this remarkable chile.

Even though it isn’t well known outside of the area, the chile de agua holds a special place among other well-known chiles like the chile de arbol, serrano and jalapeño. Traditionally grown in semi-arid lands, it was planted when the seasonal rains began by transplanting seedlings into cone-shaped beds made of adobe-like wet mud filled with leaf-cutter ant manure, then capped with more mud. The cap retained enough moisture in the soil for a few months if the weather didn’t cooperate, giving the village of Hidalgo Jaltepec fame for their yearly harvest of the chile de agua and their growing skills.

Chile de Agua roughly translates as “water chile” or “irrigated chile” and is grown almost year-round now, selling for a large price premium in the open-air markets of Oaxaca. They are sold in groups of six to twelve, fanned out in a circle on a small flat tray or large plate lined with a large green leaf. It isn’t uncommon to see the chile de agua selling for twice the price or more of any other chile at the market, selling out very quickly.


Chile de Agua Closeup

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