A staple in Vietnamese restaurants, sriracha sauce can add a touch of warmth to aromatic pho. It’s the main ingredient in spicy mayonnaise zigzagging through countless sushi rolls, and it’s even inspired legions of fans to dress up for Halloween every year as a red plastic bottle with a green cap.
But this year, a shortage of red jalapeño peppers threatened everything for sriracha, a beloved condiment made from Mexican sun-ripened peppers and seasoned with vinegar, salt, sugar and garlic.
Huy Fong Foods, an Irwindale, Calif.-based company that makes one of the world’s most popular sriracha sauces, confirmed it was experiencing an “unprecedented shortage” affecting all of its chile products, which also include chili garlic. sauce and sambal oelek.
In an emailed statement, a company representative said the issue stemmed from “several spiraling events, including the unexpected failure of Chile’s spring harvest.” Huy Fong Foods typically consumes 100 million pounds of chiles each year, the representative added.
The company foreshadowed the sriracha shortage in an April letter to customers announcing that unfavorable weather conditions had resulted in a “severe shortage” of peppers. He said all orders placed after mid-April would be paused until September.
“Unfortunately, this is out of our control and without this essential ingredient we cannot produce any of our products,” the company wrote.
A persistent drought this year in Mexico has made irrigation difficult and caused “spectacularly low yields” of red peppers, which are grown mainly in the country’s four northern states during the first four months of the year, said Guillermo Murray-Tortarolo, a researcher on climate studies. at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Climate change is a possible factor causing the drought, Murray-Tortarolo said, adding that the drought is likely to intensify and cause future production supply problems and increased costs for customers.
In a 2013 documentary titled “Sriracha,” David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods, described the enduring popularity of sriracha and how it started it all.
After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Tran landed in Los Angeles, where he decided to make sriracha, a sauce believed to have been invented by a Thai woman named Thanom Chakkapak. By 1980, he was mixing his sauce and delivering orders in his blue Chevy van. In the following decades, interest in sriracha exploded, Tran said in the documentary.
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“Over the last 30 years, the economy sometimes goes up and down, for me I don’t feel anything,” Tran said. “Every day, every month, the volume increases.” In 2013, he said, the company produced 70,000 bottles of the sauce daily with red jalapeño peppers.
Now, squeeze bottles are a valuable commodity for panicked shoppers who are cleaning up supermarket aisles and rationing what’s left of their inventory.
Joyce Park, a longtime sriracha fan who lives in Seattle, said she picks up bottles whenever she sees them in the store, an example she described as increasingly rare. Mrs. Park had hoped to marinate beef in sriracha to serve at her upcoming backyard wedding barbecue. She said she could make chicken seasoned with Tajín, a Mexican product with salt and lemon.
“I only have three bottles. What am I going to do?” Ms. Park, 53, said. “It’s an emergency, but I hope there are other spicy foods.”
On Twitter, others posted images of hopeful expeditions in search of sriracha. Some who were unsuccessful said they had to resort to purchasing alternative brands of sriracha.
Friends alerted Lurene Kelley, 51, of Memphis, Tennessee, to the spicy condiment situation. For a decade, she said, she’s been known to decorate “pretty much every savory food” with sriracha.
It’s not just sriracha she’s alarmed about, but also sambal oelek, a pure chili paste also sold by Huy Fong Foods.
“I don’t even know how to eat a Vietnamese spring roll without that sauce!” Mrs. Kelley exclaimed. “Now, this is a food crisis.”
Restaurants said they were also feeling the shortage.
Hanoi House, a Vietnamese restaurant in New York’s East Village, uses sambal oelek to prepare many of its sauces. When the restaurant’s caterer was sold on sambal oelek for several days recently, the restaurant had to gather a small amount from various retail stores, said Sara Leveen, co-owner of Hanoi House.
“We’ve managed to build a small inventory that should last several weeks,” Leveen said. “Then let’s go from there.”
Other companies, like Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi, which also use Mexican peppers in their products, said they were bracing for the impact.
“It hasn’t reached a smaller supplier like me yet, but I think that means it’s coming,” said Lauryn Chun, who founded her mother-in-law’s Kimchi in New York 13 years ago.
Shortages in Chile were another hurdle in two years of supply chain problems, Chun added.
“There’s been a price increase for every single thing that goes into making anything over the last couple of years,” she said.
As for what the future holds, Huy Fong Foods said in a statement that it expected a “fruitful fall season”.
Kirsten Noyescontributed research.