Newswise — Green means go for researchers at New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute. They are nearly ready to release NuMex Sandia Select, a new Sandia variety that allows the traditionally red chile pepper to be used as a green chile.

"Growers were wanting a Sandia variety that was better for green use," said Danise Coon, an agricultural research scientist at the Chile Pepper Institute. "But we needed something with a thicker wall and a longer, straighter pod."

The chile pepper breeding program at NMSU began in the late 1800s with famed agriculturalist Fabian Garcia. Today, it specifically works with New Mexico chile growers to help them produce what they need for the state.

Sandia peppers are grown around the Mesilla Valley and up into Hatch. Like most New Mexico chiles, Sandias start out as green in the field. Unfortunately, Sandias are usually shorter and have thinner fruit walls when compared to their relatives normally used for green chile, like NuMex Heritage Big Jim and NuMex Joe E. Parker. That's why growers in the region traditionally allow Sandia peppers to ripen into red chiles before they are harvested. Then the pods are processed and used in red chile powder and in chile flakes.

Nearly a decade ago, the Chile Pepper Institute began to see if they could select for plant traits that would make Sandia useful as a green chile. The process started with 15 different chile lines, and each was evaluated for taste, yield, disease resistance, pod structure and other plant habits. Each year a few of the most desirable lines were kept. Then, in 2011, a winner emerged - NuMex Sandia Select. The new variety has a long, straight pod and a firm fruit wall and is perfect for use as a green chile.

This spring, Sandia Select seeds will be available to growers through Biad Chili and the Chile Pepper Institute. Next fall, frozen Sandia Select chile also will be available through Biad. For more information about the Chile Pepper Institute, visit