Lime prices leave bars, restaurants lacking zest

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2014 - 2:27 PM

Unrest in Mexico, coupled with flooding in some areas and drought in others, has brought on the squeeze for lime prices.

Pucker up. That margarita is going to cost you. Ditto the gin and tonic.

It might only be an extra 20 cents or so — the amount per-lime prices have jumped since late March — if you’re mixing a drink at home.

But it’s big bucks to local restaurants and bars that serve drinks and dishes with a dash of lime.

“It went up like crazy,” said Patti Soskin, owner of Yum! Kitchen and Bakery in St. Louis Park, where customers now get two lime wedges with their tacos instead of three. “I called my rep from U.S. Foods yesterday and said, ‘Is this my dealer? I think you’re putting cocaine in my limes.’ ”

The analogy isn’t far off.

Lime growers have said unrest caused by drug cartels in the Mexican state of Michoacan has reduced supply.

Mother Nature has also played a role, with floods in lime-growing areas of Mexico, while lime-producing spots in California struggle through drought.

Limes have become so pricey that some airlines are leaving them out of drinks altogether.

At Masa in downtown Minneapolis, limes have become by-request-only when served as a garnish because the precious juice goes into almost every drink and dish the upscale Mexican restaurant serves, said sous chef Nyle Deane.

Deane said the restaurant used to pay $26 to $30 for a case of limes. More recently, the price has been $120.

“I see somebody want to throw half a lime away and I’m like, ‘Dude, that’s two bucks right there,’ ” Deane said.

Down the street at Brit’s Pub, general manager Shane Higgins said bartenders have joked about slicing limes smaller to garnish the classic gin-and-tonics, but disavowed other extreme measures.

“There’s nothing true in the rumor that we’re painting our lemons green,” Shane Higgins said, laughing.

In the end, he said, the bar will eat the cost increase. Food prices fluctuate, and all they can do is juggle the menu to compensate for the shifts.

“It’s always something like that, chickens or tomatoes,” Higgins said. “This time it’s the limes.”

A first-world problem for sure, but it seems particularly cruel to Minnesotans eager to sip citrus-laden summer drinks now that the snow is finally gone.

“We’re just at patio season. Horrible timing, Mexican cartels,” said Jason Matheson, a WCCO anchor who professes his love of margaritas regularly on the MyTalk 107.1 morning show. “You’ve totally rained on our parade.”

Of course, there are alternatives that might do in a pinch.

“You switch from limes to lemons and if the margarita is good enough, no one is going to notice,” said Meredith Deeds, a local cookbook author and columnist for the Star Tribune’s Taste section. “Or they might notice, but they’re going to be happy — just add enough tequila.”

 

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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