Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's in a Name?

Over the years, I've written fairly extensively on chile pepper nomenclature and lack of standardization of the common names. The lack of standardization stems from two sources. Chiles are about as promiscuous as any plants around and they crossbreed at the drop of a hat, leading to a real diversity of forms. And the areas where chiles developed (Mexico, Central, and South America) were often highly inaccessible and lacked communication with each other, so that common names could not develop. Rather, each community developed its own names.

This comes to mind today, because I heard one of the cooks on receiving the produce order ask the driver where the pasilla peppers were, as listed on the invoice. When the driver pointed to the case of poblanos, the cook told him that they were poblanos, not pasillas.

While it is true that the vast majority of people calls the large, mild, triangular peppers (on the right in the photo) poblanos, there is a small minority that calls the same pepper the pasilla ancho. Most people call the dried form of poblano an ancho. What most people call a pasilla is the dried form of another chile, the one with wrinkled skin on the left in the photo.

For some reason, our produce company has elected to go in the face of majority opinion and call the fresh poblanos pasillas. They don't even list poblanos in their inventory. In our first days with this produce company, we had rampant confusion in getting poblanos until I got on the phone with a Spanish speaking sales rep who cleared it up for me.

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