Blame an unfortunate combination of Mother Nature and Mexican drug cartels for a huge lime shortage in the U.S.
With an already sparse crop this year due to tree disease and heavy rains, a Mexican cartel that calls itself the Knight’s Templar is stealing limes from farmers or imposing high taxes on the crop, according to NPR.
95% of America’s limes come from Mexico, and grocery store prices are already surging — from 29 cents per lime a year ago to $US1 per lime today, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Restaurants are being forced to confront the issue as well, since the shortage could last all summer, as some experts believe that lime prices won’t settle down until four or five months — right at the end of peak lime season.
“Our prices tripled overnight about six weeks ago,” Steve Tarpin, owner of Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies in Brooklyn, told Business Insider in an email. His bakery specialises in fresh key lime pie, and after its supply line closed down a few weeks ago, he had to raise the price on his product 14%.
“The supply line has since re-opened,” Tarpin told us. “We won’t know the quality [of the limes], but we’re hopeful they will be suitable. The price has retracted a bit and we’re hoping to see them stabilise. We’re looking at sources outside Mexico (Columbia, Venezuela, Peru) and also looking at alternative sources within Mexico in areas that weren’t as affected by crisis.”
His is not the only establishment raising prices. Lime-centric drinks around the city have become more expensive as wholesale crates have increased from $US12 to $US14 to well over $US100. Many restaurants have begun substituting lemon wedges with cocktails, or asking customers if they want limes to garnish their drinks — rather than adding them automatically — to try and save their existing supplies.
Those who aren’t raising prices may be cutting lime juice with lemon juice, or using pasteurized lime juice. “We have looked into pasteurized bottled lime juice,” the owner of Gran Electrica in DUMBO told Brooklyn Magazine, “but unfortunately the taste just doesn’t hold up to that of freshly squeezed. Our award-winning margaritas are too special to make that sacrifice, but if prices continue to rise, it may be a sacrifice we all have to make.”
Ciro Garzon, the general manager of Pampano, told Grub Street a similar story. “Prices from our purveyors have tripled,” Garzon said. “At the bar, we look for other alternatives, and sometimes use lemons instead.”
It’s a sacrifice some establishments are avoiding altogether by revamping their menus. So far, Cubana Social in Williamsburg is planning spring cocktails without lime juice (or raising the price accordingly), as is Apartment 13 in the East Village where owner Steve Olson told Grub Street that one featured cocktail with lime juice may be taken off the menu entirely.
The squeeze is being felt around the country. Tacolicious in San Francisco wrote an essay to customers about the lime shortage, explaining on its website that it plans to both raise the price of freshly squeezed lime cocktails and make more moderately priced drinks using a combination of juices:
In this case, a mix of 50 per cent flash-pasteurized fresh lime juice from local juice company, 25 per cent freshly squeezed lime juice, and 25 per cent freshly squeezed lemon juice. We did a margarita taste test, pictured above, made of a few different lime-y combinations to come up with this mix and we think it has great integrity and is quite tasty to boot.
Another California-based restaurant, Matador Cantina in Orange County, made national headlines when it posted on Facebook about a promo where customers could bring in a bag of limes and get a margarita for only 25 cents.
Post by Matador Cantina. The promotional deal is still going on. Times are definitely desperate. Here's hoping this lime shortage ends sooner than expected so we can stop worrying about America's favourite cocktail garnishes.
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