Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Introducing the giant Frankenjalapeño

No, it's not big enough to ride like a horse
No, it's not big enough to ride like a horse
Photo by bunchofpants/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Perhaps it's because I grew up in a part of L.A. where people grew chiles in their backyards, but I did a double take the other day upon coming across a press release heralding the introduction of a giant genetically modified jalapeño.

It has a rather creative name, the NuMex Jalmundo. From the release: ..."the name Jalmundo is a contraction of jalapeño and the Spanish word for world (mundo), implying that it is as big as the world."

That's a lot of rajas. Though according to the chile's breeders, the mega-jalapeño is intended not so much for tamal consumers as it is for the patrons of chain restaurants that serve jalapeño poppers, to be used as a plus-sized vessel for cheese. The release bills the chiles as "perfect for poppers."

I'd somehow perceived chiles as a humble, untweaked crop. As it turns out, the NuMex Jalmundo - a cross between a standard jalapeño and a bell pepper - is one of a number of engineered chiles. It was developed by the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University, which has a chile breeding program.

Not that tweaked chiles go over well with everyone. A documentary on genetically modified chiles recently captured the back-and-forth over plans to engineer New Mexico chiles in their home state, where people take chiles seriously as a regional tradition.

At least being closely related to a bell pepper doesn't seem to rob the new giant jalapeño of too much heat. It's considered medium-hot, with a heat level of 17,000 Scoville Heat Units.