Illustration by Chris Philpot.

CAPSAICIN, THE ALKALOID that makes chiles taste hot, has been a healer since the ancient Inca and Aztec cultures. These days, super-hot chiles are bred specifically for use in medicinal creams for muscle aches and arthritis and in essential oils to treat migraines and missing limb syndrome. At least one maker places capsaicin in a spray for reducing nasal congestion. (We say a steaming bowl of green chile stew does so even better.)   

Beyond medicine, chile grown in New Mexico ends up in numerous products that don’t come on a combo platter. Mashed and processed into a flavorless and spiceless coloring agent, it appears in lipstick, pepperoni, Doritos, Gatorade, and bologna, and even adds a pleasant tint to mayonnaise.   

Fiery varieties go into pepper spray, bear repellent, and natural pest deterrents.  

Added to the foods of captive birds and fish, it imparts a redder hue. (Flamingos in zoos and koi in ponds are beneficiaries.)

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Read more from our "Ultimate Guide to New Mexico Chile"

The Mystery of Big Jim
A 10-year effort to restore one of New Mexico’s most distinctive chiles underscores how memory thrives in our taste buds. 

The Ultimate New Mexico Chile Tasting Guide
We asked two experts to describe the flavors of New Mexico’s best chile varieties.

José Gonzalez: The Allure of Chile Farming
Although he's tried other jobs, José Gonzalez keeps coming back to the farm where his family grows chiles, corn, beans and more.

The Making of Chile U
One of the only scientific institutions devoted to a so-called condiment flourishes in Las Cruces.

Matt Romero: The Chile Roaster
Rooted in family history, Matt Romero brings that heavenly scent and his special flair to the Santa Fe Farmers' Market.