Chili peppers make it to frozen Svalbard Seed Vault

Human civilization may fall apart, but salsa will live forever.

That’s a decidedly non-scientific take on a very scientific endeavor, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which this week takes delivery of a wide range of North American foods, including the seeds for multiple varieties of hot red peppers.

The seeds come from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Plant Germplasm System in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Created as the ultimate repository for agricultural genetic diversity, the “doomsday” seed vault is the world’s largest assembly of crops, containing more than 525,000 so far. Set deep in a mountain on a remote Norwegian archipelago near the North Pole, it holds crop collections crucial for farmers and plant breeders, allowing them to incorporate new traits into species to fight diseases, pests or new climate conditions.

This week’s addition from the U.S. is made up of 537 varieties of 13 crops. They include a mouth-numbing list of peppers: Pico de Gallo or “Rooster’s beak,” a medium-hot salsa staple; and the San Juan “Tsile,” a New Mexico chili. Chili peppers are a New World crop that has been enthusiastically adopted by cultures as diverse as China’s Sichuan and Ethiopia.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has already shipped tens of thousands of seeds to Svalbard since the vault was opened in 2008. The ultimate goal is to have the majority of the U.S.’s 511,000 collections represented there. This week’s assortment also included melons, beans, sesame, hibiscus, squash, gourd, and 448 different varieties of sorghum.

Sorghum is a dietary staple for 500 million people. Though unknown to most Americans as anything but bird seed, sorghum could turn out to be crucial as the climate changes, due to its ability to withstand hot and dry conditions.

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