The (once) underground pepper

a can of chipotles (packed in adobo sauce)A while ago on one of my favorite cooking shows the chef made a dish with chipotle peppers. She extoled their unique flavor as “bacon for vegetarians.” With a description like that, I couldn’t resist trying a bunch of different recipes laden with these mysterious peppers.

Chipotle (pronounced chee-POHT-lay) peppers are simply smoked red jalapenos, a fact I didn’t know until I had eaten them many times. The process of smoking changes the flavor completely, which along with the ‘adobo sauce’ they are typically packed in, makes them a flavorful alternative as a spicy condiment; as suggested, they have an aroma that suggests bacon or jerky. Once I started eating them, I became obsessed, maybe even addicted to the flavor. I have an open can of chipotles in my refridgerator at all times

I just recently discovered that my addiction is not unique. The name has started to pop up everywhere, from the Cheescake Factory to Tabasco; everywhere I turn I’m confronted with this word I don’t ever remember noticing before this year. Some are proclaiming 2003 the Year of the Chipotle, its popularity sealed by acceptance in the popular market. Paul McIlhenny, president of the Tabasco enterprise thinks their new chipotle sauce will supercede habanero, garlic, and green to become their number two sauce.

How can something nearly a thousand years old emerge in one year as a taste of the year? Is it the product of good marketing, or did its diffusion just reach epidemic proportions? As a researcher in this sort of thing, it’s hard to tell. Americans have been diversifying their tastes like crazy over the past decade, and it might have just been a matter of time before people were ready for it. I wonder what other sneaky, radically good ingredients are just around the corner. It’s like an element of the periodic table of tastes that has just been discovered. If you know of any others, sound off..