Lime Shortage Affects Cinco de Mayo Celebrations


By Dane Feldman

Photo by Dane Feldman.

Cinco de Mayo falls on this coming Monday, which likely means people will be celebrating this weekend (even if it is also Derby Day tomorrow). I’ve had some fun gearing up for the beloved Mexican holiday, but before Monday arrives it’s important to talk about a more serious issue: the current lime shortage. I know I don’t use Dish + Drink as a platform for such topics often, yet it seems I’d be remiss not to this time around.

For those of you who haven’t heard, thanks to an array of issues in Mexico–from which we in the United States bring in the vast majority of our limes–the importing and exporting of limes has diminished. Limes were costing about $15 a case, but are now up to around $100. Mexican cartels are in part to blame; a produce war is costing exporters to lose some of their trucks to hijackings. While this is an enormous and dangerous issue for farmers and exporters in the Michoacan area, the produce war isn’t the only problem causing the shortage.

In fact, the Mexican cartels really only jumped on the opportunity to make some fast cash on limes because of the fact that the fruit was already far more valuable than it had been for quite some time. Long stretches of awful weather (a drought and a bad winter) in combination with a harmful citrus-tree-attacking disease caused the initial shortage.

So what does this mean for you as a foodie? Well, the lime shortage in combination with an avocado shortage (the severe droughts in California caused this one), means it may not be so cheap to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at your favorite Mexican place this weekend. Margarita prices are up and guacamole prices are up.

If you think you’re going to avoid the problem by hosting your own Mexican fiesta at home, it’s likely that the prices at your local grocery store have gone up too.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking “Whatever, Dane, I don’t even like Mexican food.” This lime shortage isn’t just affecting the Mexican restaurants. Here’s the deal: the Mexican restaurants are charging extra for these ingredients because they know they can’t get by without serving up margaritas with fresh lime juice. Or, imagine a Mexican place with no guacamole. So, they’re paying the higher wholesale prices because they have to.

What about the restaurants owners that don’t think they have to? Thai food traditionally focuses on the inclusion of limes, too. In the past few weeks, I’ve dined at two different Thai restaurants, both of which subtly–or not so subtly–switched out limes for lemons in my dishes. Others are changing their cocktail menus altogether to incorporate more lemons instead of limes.

Aside from that, we may not feel the effects too much even if the shortages continue. Thankfully, limes were once considered on the cheap side of produce, so the wild increase in price still makes them fairly affordable even on a budget.

I use limes in such a large quantity of my recipes that I don’t intend to cut down on my intake. So, stay tuned for more Cinco de Mayo-themed recipes, shortage or not.