It’s the perfect storm for lime lovers: An unprecedented shortage is hitting just as we approach the biggest margarita holiday of the year, Cinco de Mayo.
The news media is abuzz about the price of these little greenies. Frequent fliers are moaning about the demise of wedges of lime for their airborne gin and tonics. Consumers at the grocery store are in green sticker shock. According to United States Department of Agriculture data, the retail price of a lime has nearly doubled versus one year ago, the highest point of every year due to the holiday demand.
Why? It’s a new case of Montezuma’s revenge.
Mexico supplies about 95 – 97% of the limes used in the United States, and their groves were hit with rains and disease, so the growers agreed to take prices up. Florida and California, the other two major sources, have had weather issues.
So, what’s a lime lover to do? Or a top quality Mexican restaurant?
Barbara Sibley, chef owner of Manhattan’s La Palapa (www.lapalapa.com) is addressing the problem by being extra creative:
“La Palapa is known for our fresh lime margaritas, so I really can’t change the recipe.
“What I am doing is not using limes to garnish — if guests would like an extra lime to squeeze into their drink we are happy to provide it. We have reduced the limes we cut for garnish from three cases a week to one. Amazing how much must be wasted on a regular basis! Essentially limes have gone from being a garnish that is inconsequential to the food cost of the dish to an integral part of the food cost.
“Other ways I am dealing with it is the opposite of “when life gives your lemons make lemonade.” Instead of using limes, I am using alternate ways to provide tartness in cocktails.”
La Palapa has a range of non-traditional margaritas made tart with hibiscus, passion fruit, tamarind or nopal cactus juice, and the recipes are unsweetened, in perfect balance. Wild Hibiscus Heart Tea is pure hibiscus if trying this at home.
So stick with restaurants like La Palapa, who are not going to compromise with an ersatz sour mix for their beverages.
For G & T, use a wedge of lemon instead of the lime, like the Brits do. Jolly good, by the way. (The nickname “limeys” for the English whose olden day sailors consumed limes to prevent scurvy is quite ironic here).
Substitute Key limes in your recipes. What we simply call “limes” are also known as “Persian limes”, as opposed to the smaller, more acidic “Key limes,” best loved for the delicious pale yellow confection, Key lime pie.
Although normally higher in price than regular limes, their prices have not escalated in recent days. You may need to up the quantity of Triple Sec in the margarita to balance the higher acidity. Or you can forget the cocktail and just make a nice pie.