When life steals your limes, can you still make sangria?

Photo from flickr/Troy Tolley

Nobody saw it coming.

Sangria without limes. Authentic fish tacos minus the citrus zing. Coronas without a bright green piece of fruit tucked into the neck of the bottle.

“Limes used to be $30 a case. They are now somewhere around $160 a case,” said Liezl Swanson, chef at Tres Carnales, when I spoke with her in May.

The great lime shortage of 2014 was a result of the perfect storm: The citrus disease, Huanglongbing, which causes mottled leaves, and small, bitter fruit, ravaging crops, drug cartels swiping supplies and poor weather wiping out much of Mexico’s limes and shortening the growing season.

Edmonton restaurants all handled the crisis in different ways.

“Personally, we are sucking up [most of] the cost,” said Swanson. But, when I talked to her in early May, Tres Carnales was also charging for limes when customers request a side order of the fruit, and the restaurant had removed the limes from its sangria recipe.

At Kaengthai Bistro, chef Junior Simpalipun saw his food costs increase as a direct result of the lime shortage, but didn't increase the prices on his menu. He was still getting limes mostly from Mexico but he doesn’t care where they come from, as long as they are the real thing. “Fresh lime tastes better, whether it is from Mexico or Brazil. For me, it’s not that different,” he said.

Simpalipun only uses lime in his spicy and sour soup, and in the sauce for his calamari. Kaengthai Bistro also gives customers one lime wedge with each order or pad Thai, When the shortage began Simpalipun still ordered half a case of limes per week, same as before the supply-chain breakdown.

While some people turned to artificial lime or, lime’s sunnier compadre, lemon, that wasn’t an option for many of the Latin, Mexican and Thai restaurants in Edmonton. Fresh lime is in almost every recipe at Tres Carnales, says Swanson. “The customers expect fresh limes in their beer, on the side of their plate. Bottled lime just isn’t the same,” she said.

Eventually, the prices dropped a bit, to about $100 a case in some instances, because in the spring most suppliers switched from Mexican limes to Brazilian, said Swanson. But some restaurants started looking for cheaper alternatives than their usual suppliers. Elvis Rosales, owner of The Three Amigos on 106th street, bought his limes for 59 cents each from H&W produce.

Even so, he was still feeling the squeeze. “I’m still buying but obviously it sucks. It does affect us but now I don’t put limes on the plates, unless someone asks. A lot of times they go to waste anyways,” he said, when I asked him about it in May.

Rosales considered charging extra for limes but decided against it. The biggest difference has been in his restaurant’s drinks. “It affects us a lot because we use lime in drinks. We had to buy the artificial juice to use in drinks for awhile,” he said.

For the most part, the great limeaggedon of 2014 seems to be over. But what citrus fruit will feel the squeeze of an unpredictable market next? Only time will tell.