Pace Puts Out the Jalapeno's Fire with Introduction of New
By Jay Jorden
In a state where the fiery jalapeno is an official product and
some Texans even put chiles in their beer, a picante sauce maker's
new heatless pepper has become a burning issue.
But, jumpin' jalapenos! This cool concoction comes from the folks
at Pace, whose advertisements once jokingly proposed a lynch mob
for anyone daring to serve picante sauce "from New York City."
The San Antonio-based company is proud of its creation, but kept
it a secret as long as possible.
The clandestine plant-breeding program was dubbed "Operation
Big Chill." They were so hush-hush about it that the seeds
were grown in Hawaii and at a secluded South Texas greenhouse.
The result is a jalapeno without capsaicin, the chemical that
heats up everything from curry powder to salsa.
Pace says it is targeting a market made of those who like their
Mexican food on the mild side.
"A lot of people like peppers ... but a lot of consumers
don't like them too spicy. So producing a heatless pepper is a
very worthwhile goal," said Richard Fery, a research geneticist
at the U.S. Vegetable Lab of the federal Department of Agriculture
in Charleston, S.C.
Lou Rasplicka, Pace vice president for technology with a Ph.D.
in food science, said the wraps only came off Big Chill after
the company secured a plant variety protection number from the
USDA that gives Pace proprietary rights to the seeds produced
near Honolulu and in Quihi, near Hondo.
Rasplicka said Pace already has used heatless jalapenos to replace
bell peppers in its new line of extra mild picante sauce because
they retain the flavor profile found in Pace's mild and hot salsas.
"We had already produced a sweet jalapeno in the 1970s,"
said Ben Villalon, a plant breeder at Texas A&M Agricultural
Experiment Station in Weslaco who provided some breeding stock
for the Pace effort. "For the last 15 years, we have been
trying to add the flavor."
Informal taste tests of the new jalapeno, which is almost twice
as big as its 2-1/2-inch-long cousins, have had mixed results.
"Here in San Antonio, a lot of people want it hot,"
said chef Arturo Guerrero, who whipped up several batches of picante
using the no-heat peppers at Mi Tierra restaurant.
"These (mild) jalapenos are good, though, for soft tacos
or omelets. But Mexican food fans are looking for serranos or
hot jalapenos. We use bell peppers in some omelets and wanted
to try these new jalapenos, but they don't have much taste."
Tom Laurenzo, marketing director for the popular Houston-based
Ninfa's restaurant chain, said he's willing to give the new stuff
"It is a terrific idea because, in my experience in the restaurant
business, there are all kinds of tastes out there," Laurenzo
said. "You'd still get the flavor without the heat."
While the summer Texas heat sizzles like a cast-iron skillet,
with record-breaking temperatures, many residents judge a jalapeno
by its bite - not by how it looks.
Why, what if contestants at jalapeno-eating contests substitute
heatless peppers for the real thing?
"I'll just use Pace's own words: 'Get a rope!' " said
Mike Cagle, a Fort Worth chemist and self-avowed "chile-phile"
who makes his own chipotle and habanero sauces.
All content copyright 1996, Jay Jorden,
The Associated Press
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