The Great Lime Crisis of 2014 is no joke for bars and restaurants. A shortage of the green citrus fruit has caused the price of limes in the U.S to quadruple this year.
Worse yet, operators say that the limes that are available now are smaller and drier, so they don’t yield as much juice. That’s a major problem, considering how many cocktail recipes call for fresh lime juice.
What’s causing the shortage? The lime crop in Mexico, which produces more than 90% of the limes now consumed in the U.S., has suffered from heavy rainfall and disease. Mexican drug cartels have been further disrupting the lime supply through extortion and lime-truck hijackings.
Any problems with Mexico’s lime supply puts the squeeze the U.S., since we don’t have much of a lime industry. Florida used to supply half of all the limes consumed until 2001 when a virus forced the destruction of the state’s lime groves and they never recovered.
What to do about the lime shortage behind the bar? For one thing, ditch the lime garnish whenever you can—even the taco truck parked near the Cheers office has started substituting lemons for lime wedges. The lime wedge isn’t the most inspired cocktail garnish anyway; other fruits, vegetables and herbs can make for an attractive and flavorful presentation.
As for making cocktails, substituting fresh lemon juice for lime wherever possible is the easiest and most obvious solution; grapefruit also provides a nice tartness for many drinks. Frozen concentrates and purees can augment a limited lime supply as well.
But you may need to get creative and look for other ingredients to balance a cocktail in place of lime. For instance, some bartenders are using verjus, the juice of unripe wine grapes, as well as wine or vermouth as souring agents.
Drinking vinegars, or shrubs, can also add flavor and acid to a drink. A combination of sugar, fruit and vinegar, shrubs were popular in colonial times as a way to preserve fruit and been reappearing in craft cocktails in recent years. Now might be a good time to experiment with making and using shrubs.
For certain, the lime crisis could mean a rough start to the summer drinks season, considering the seasonal popularity of Margaritas, Mojitos and Gin & Tonics, to name just a few. But we’ll get through it: Most bartenders are incredibly resourceful, and they don’t shy away from a challenge.