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Climate change could be to blame for the Sriracha shortage

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Fans of Sriracha, grab a tissue because you may be about to start crying - and not from the hot sauce. The beloved condiment is now in short supply.

MICHAEL CSAU: Usually, I bought one case, roughly around 30 to 32, now up to $50 now, almost double price. It keep going up, and we cannot afford, you know?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Michael Csau, co-owner of the restaurant Pho Viet here in Washington, D.C., talking about his Sriracha orders.

CSAU: Probably we have to switch to a different brand. Yeah. But people, they're used to the taste right now. So when they taste it, know right away.

SHAPIRO: It's not just restaurants paying higher prices. Grocery stores in some parts of the country have also been running low on stock. The company that makes Sriracha is Huy Fong Foods, and they alerted customers in late April that they'll have to stop making the sauce for a few months due to, quote, "severe weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers."

PFEIFFER: Guillermo Murray-Tortarolo studies climate and ecosystems at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

GUILLERMO MURRAY-TORTAROLO: Sriracha is actually made from a very special type of pepper that grows only in northern Mexico and southern U.S. These red jalapenos are only grown during the first four months of the year, and they need very controlled conditions, particularly constant irrigation.

PFEIFFER: And irrigation, of course, requires lots of water. But northern Mexico is in its second year of a drought.

MURRAY-TORTAROLO: The already difficult conditions were pushed over the limit by two consecutive La Nina events. And the dry season has not only been intense, but also remarkably long.

PFEIFFER: As a result, the spring chili harvest was almost nonexistent this year.

SHAPIRO: Murray-Tortarolo thinks it's very likely that climate change is a factor. The entire region that includes the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico is suffering a megadrought. That's actually the scientific term. And it's also connected to climate change.

PARK WILLIAMS: This has been the driest 22 years in the last 1,200 years.

PFEIFFER: Park Williams is a hydroclimatologist at UCLA. He says the megadrought conditions drying up water reservoirs in the U.S. make it harder for Mexico to deal with its water shortages. It's hard to say climate change caused the drought, Williams says, but his research estimates that 40% of the drought can be attributed to human-caused climate change. Still, he says...

WILLIAMS: Limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius puts us in a much better situation than if we let global warming go to 3 degrees Celsius, 4 degrees Celsius.

SHAPIRO: So keeping Sriracha hot may depend on keeping the planet cool. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.