The secrets of Chile Cobanero
This signature pepper is making waves in the U.S.
MORE IN THIS SECTION
Cobán is a city in the interior of Guatemala known for growing cardamom and coffee, but its best-kept secret is another food item. For thousands of years, dating back to Mayan times, the original Cobanero chile pepper has been cultivated there, a round, deep red chile bell pepper characteristic of Guatemalan and Central American cuisine.
This rare variety of the Capsicum annuum plant has a delicious, sweet and smoky aroma that decorates all kinds of hot sauces and stews, and is the main base of kak'ik, one of Guatemala's national dishes, which originates from a Mayan stew made with turkey, chiles, tomatoes and achiote.
Cobanero chile is grown in and around Cobán, and is now an exported product.
When the cobanero chile begins to grow, it is green and once ripe, it turns red.
It can be eaten raw, like any other chile bell pepper, but it is in the process of drying and toasting or smoking it on a wood-fired griddle that gives it its special flavor. When it is made with firewood, it is this that gives it the intense smoky flavor and a stronger reddish color.
The Guatemalan Times reported a year ago that cobanero chile is making waves in the U.S., coinciding with the increased popularity of spices and seasonings in American kitchens since the pandemic forced citizens to spend more time in their kitchens. Sales at McCormick & Co, one of the world's largest suppliers of seasoning blends, rose 5% in 2020 compared to 2019, worth up to $5.6 billion, according to The Guatemalan Times.
This renewed culinary focus has driven up interest in "cobaneros," especially in the burnished red flake format, which can be used in a wide range of dishes, adding a bright, fruity flavor and tantalizing spiciness.
On the other hand, the world's taste for hot sauces is also on the rise. According to the Guatemalan Times, Guatemala exported $725,580 worth of the product up to November last year, equivalent to 2.5 million kilos, according to tariff data published by the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat).
According to Data Export magazine, the Guatemalan Exporters Association (Agexport), one of the main brands sent to the U.S. is KIB (which means 'warrior' in Mayan culture and is used as an element of fire), a brand of hot sauces aimed at the Latin market. One of their star products is Chile Cobanero sauce, made with Cobanero chilis, smoked with local woods, and intense spiciness and flavor.
In 2016, they made their first launch. Three years later, they exported to 650 sellers in the United States and El Salvador, in addition to Internet marketing through Amazon. In Guatemala, they are present in around 750 supermarkets and soon expect to reach the rest of Central America.