Giving up on chiles isn't a choice for Gary Paul Nabhan, even though climate change is making chile cultivation more difficult. "The worst possible thing we can do with that sense of being overwhelmed by the severity of climate change is to just resign ourselves to being victims," Nabhan said in a recent The New York Times article. Like literature or music, chiles are a cultural artifact that bring vibrancy to our lives. Nabhan, co-author of "Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail," is a chile enthusiast and global epicurean. On a five-acre plot, Nabhan grows an eclectic collection of hot peppers. In the desert chiles being their lives under shady "nurse plants," so Nabhan plants his chile seeds under fruit trees.
Global warming has made summers hotter and freezes more fickle. Droughts and unseasonable frosts are problematic for chile farmers, who rely on regular seasonal cycles. Worse, shifting weather patterns have lead to more intense hurricanes-Hurricane Gilbert destroyed Yucatan habanzero fields and brought in African plant viruses. Wild chile harvests failed in the Sonora desert, too. In San Ignacio and Patagonia, chiles and fruit trees died off from droughts.
All chile peppers originated in the Western hemisphere, particularly an area between southern Brazil and Bolivia. Capsaicinoids cause that distinctive chile heat, which evolved to protect the plants from mammals. Birds could eat the chiles without feeling the burn, spreading the seeds in the wild. Mammals, however, destroy chile seeds in their digestive tracks. Measured in "Scoville" units, the heat of a chile pepper is a factor of capsaicinoid concentration. Removing a chile's seeds and white, membranous ribs helps to eliminate the heat.