WESLACO — Salsa and picante makers will vie for the hot title of World Champion at the second biennial championship taste-off here May 31-June 2.
The contest, which supports pepper breeding and educational efforts of Dr. Ben Villalon at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, will be held in conjunction with the 10th Texas Pepper Foundation Biennial Conference.
Villalon began a pepper breeding program in Texas during the early 1970s. Since that time, he has released nine multiple virus resistant varieties. Two of his releases — the TAM Mild Jalapeno-I and Hidalgo serrano — have become standards in the industry.
Because pepper plants are highly susceptible to viruses, breeding in resistance was the first step for making the industry profitable in Texas. But breeding a flavorful pepper with less “bite” was the stroke that sent consumers scampering after the product in droves.
“The TAM Mild Jalapeno-I has placed a significant role in the increased popularity of salsa and hot pepper products,” said Dr. Al Wagner, Texas Agricultural Extension Service horticulturist and co- chair of the taste-off contest. “Its mild, flavorful fruit has enabled many people to enjoy these products.”
But Villalon’s program receives minimal state financial support, according to co-chair Dr. Frank Dainello, who also is an Extension horticulturist. Therefore, the taste-off was organized as “an exciting, fun” way to raise money for the pepper research program in Texas, Dainello said. The purpose also is to promote the enjoyment of peppers and pepper products.
Contestants may compete in three categories: mild, red salsa/picante; hot, red salsa/picante; or, green salsa/picante.
Entry fees are determined by the size or type of company entering. Those with registered labels and sales about $10 million a year must pay $1,000 to enter; those with sales less than $10 million must pay $750; those with Texas sales only or national restaurant chains that feature their own salsa or picante must pay $500. Entry fees, which entitle participants entrance in one or all of the categories plus booth space for sales, are due by May 17. The event is co-sponsored by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Texas Pepper Foundation.
For more information, contact Wagner or Dainello at 979-845-7341.