SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall, wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders.
Now one state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile.
Sen. Bill Soules’ visit with fifth-grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers.
Sponsored by Soules, Senate Bill 188 seeks to adopt “the aroma of green chile roasting in the fall” as “the official aroma of New Mexico.” If approved, the aroma would join a list of more than 20 other state symbols, not to mention a handful of state songs, a ballad and a poem.
For New Mexico, chile is more than a key ingredient for every meal. It’s life. It’s at the center of the official state question — “Red or green?” — and is one of the state’s official vegetables.
New Mexico produced more than 60% of the U.S. chile pepper crop in 2021 and is home to Hatch, an agricultural village known as the chile capital of the world for the unique red and green peppers it has turned out for generations. The famous crop also is used in powders, sauces and salsas that are shipped worldwide.
Soules presented the bill to the state’s Indian, Rural and Cultural Affairs Committee on Tuesday. A fifth-grade class from Monte Vista Elementary in Las Cruces spoke in support of the bill.
While green’s status as a potential “state aroma” might not seem like it’s ripe for contentious debate, at least one committee member offered alternative ideas at Tuesday’s meeting. One lawmaker suggested “the smell of oil and gas” or “dairy farms” to be considered, but students offered a counterargument about the “everywhere” presence of chile.
“No matter where you go in New Mexico, you’re going to be smelling green chile,” said an unnamed student during Tuesday’s committee hearing. “But in other states, other parts of the areas in New Mexico, they don’t have the smell of cows and that stuff. Roasting green chile is everywhere.”
The bill cleared a committee vote by 5 to 0 Tuesday. If it gets all the way through the 2023 legislative session, the scent would be the 22nd official state symbol.
Officially recognizing the aroma could also pay off as another way to market New Mexico to visitors.
A legislative analysis of the bill noted that peak tourist season typically begins in March and tapers down toward the end of October, meaning it overlaps with the time for chile roasting. The analysis also noted that New Mexico has consistently lower visitation rates than neighboring Colorado, which reported 84.2 million visitors in 2021 compared with about 40 million in New Mexico.
“The new state aroma could help draw visitors away from Colorado, which, for some reason, thinks it has green chile comparable to that of New Mexico,” the analysis quipped, in a nod to an ongoing feud between the two states.
Soules, a former teacher and elementary school principal, has been using the aroma legislation as an opportunity to teach the fifth-graders about the legislative process. The students have been researching state symbols in New Mexico and elsewhere as part of preparing to testify on behalf of the bill.
“They’re learning how to lobby, how to write letters to legislators to support this bill, they’re practicing their public speaking,” Soules said. “They’re learning lots about other things as part of their curriculum around this as a topic, so it’s a good education, too.”
Here’s a slideshow of New Mexico’s various officially recognized state symbols. Don’t miss the list below for a breakdown of the various state poems and songs, including the state’s “official cowboy song!”
New Mexico’s state symbols, poems and songs:
- State flower: Yucca.
- State bird: Chaparral, commonly called the “roadrunner.”
- State tree: Nut pine or piñon tree.
- State fish: Cutthroat trout.
- State animal (mammal): The New Mexico black bear.
- State vegetables: Chile and frijoles, or pinto beans.
- State gem: Turquoise.
- State grass: Blue Grama grass, or “Bouteloua gracillis.”
- State fossil: Coelophysis.
- State cookie: Biscochito, or bizcochito.
- State insect: The tarantula hawk wasp, or “Pepsis formosa.”
- State question: “Red or Green?”
- State answer: “Red and green or Christmas.”
- State nickname: “The Land of Enchantment.”
- State butterfly: The Sandia hairstreak.
- State reptile: The New Mexico whiptail lizard, or “Cnemidophorus neomexicanus.”
- State amphibian: The New Mexico spadefoot toad.
- State aircraft: Hot air balloon.
- State historical railroad/train: The Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad.
- State tie: The bolo tie.
- State necklace: The Native American squash blossom necklace.
- State capitol: The city of Santa Fe and the Roundhouse capitol building.
- State flag: Sometimes called “the Zia flag,” described as the red sun symbol of the Zia Pueblo, shown in a field of gold.
- State seal: A circle featuring an American Bald Eagle with outstretched wings shielding a smaller Mexican Eagle, symbolizing the change of sovereignty from Mexico to the United States in 1846. The phrase “Great Seal of the State of New Mexico *1912* is written on the edge of the circle.
- State motto: “It grows as it goes,” an English translation of the Latin phrase “Crescit Eundo.”
- State slogan (for business, commerce, industry): “Everybody is somebody in New Mexico.”
- State poem: “A Nuevo Mexico,” written by Luis Tafoya, in both English and Spanish.
- State folklorist: Claude Stephenson.
- State guitar: A guitar known as “the New Mexico sunrise.”
- State song – English: “O Fair New Mexico,” written by Elizabeth Garrett.
- State song – Spanish: “Asi Es Nuevo Mexico,” written by Amadeo Lucero.
- State ballad: “Land of Enchantment,” written by Michael Martin Murphey.
- State bilingual song: “Mi Lindo Nuevo Mexico,” written by Pablo Mares.
- State cowboy song: “Under the New Mexico Skies,” written by Syd Masters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.