There's a nationwide Sriracha shortage, and climate change may be to blame
Sorry, Sriracha fans, your favorite hot sauce is running out nationwide.
The company that makes Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods, wrote in an email to customers in late April that it will have to stop making the sauce for the next few months due to "severe weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers."
The spicy sauce has something of a cult following, and so when the news filtered through, some fans took to social media to express their dismay and post about panic buying (with varying degrees of irony.)
Grocery stores in some parts of the country have already started running low on stock, and restaurant owners have been facing higher prices.
Michael Csau, co-owner of the restaurant Pho Viet in Washington D.C., has been paying much more in recent weeks for his Sriracha orders.
"Usually when I bought one case, it was roughly around $30 to $32. Now it's up to $50, almost double the price. If it keeps going up, we cannot afford it," Csau said.
If the price gets much higher, Csau said he would probably have to switch to a different brand.
"But people, they are used to the taste right now. So when they taste it, they'll know right away," he said.
Florence Lee, who was at Csau's restaurant waiting for a bowl of pho, summed up her thoughts on a Sriracha swap-out: "A little bummed out."
"Because this is where I'm like, you have to have the Hoisin sauce and the Sriracha, together!" she said.
Other food could be affected too
The shortage is due to a failed chili pepper harvest in northern Mexico, where all of the chilies used in Sriracha come from, according to National Autonomous University of Mexico's Guillermo Murray Tortarolo, who studies climate and ecosystems.
"Sriracha is actually made from a very special type of pepper that only grows in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico," Murray Tortarolo said. "These red jalapeños are only grown during the first four months of the year, and they need very controlled conditions, particularly constant irrigation."
Irrigation, of course, requires lots of water, but northern Mexico is in its second year of a drought.
"The already difficult conditions were pushed over the limit by two consecutive La Niña events. And the dry season has not only been intense, but also remarkably long," Murray Tortarolo said.
As a result, the spring chili harvest was almost nonexistent this year. Murray Tortarolo thinks it's very likely that climate change is a factor, although it requires further study to confirm.
He said that if the drought continued, it was likely that prices for other foods from the region like avocados, tomatoes and meat would rise as well.
On top of these conditions, the entire region that includes the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico is suffering a "megadrought." And it's also connected to climate change.
"This has been the driest 22 years in the last 1,200 years," UCLA hydroclimatologist Park Williams said. Williams recently led a study of the megadrought, published in Nature Climate Change.
He said the megadrought conditions drying up water reservoirs in the U.S. made it harder for Mexico to deal with its water shortages.
"We share some of the same climate, but we also share some of the same water," Williams said. "So over the last 23 years as we've seen our largest reservoirs get drained, this puts Mexico and Mexican agriculture at a risk of being even more water limited than it would be already."
It's hard to say climate change caused the drought, Williams said, but it's certainly made it worse. His research estimates that about 40% of the drought can be attributed to human-caused climate change.
Still, Williams said we can make a huge difference by limiting how bad climate change gets.
"Limiting global warming to below 2 degree Celsius puts us in a much better situation than if we let global warming go to 3 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius."
So keeping Sriracha hot may depend on keeping the planet cool.