For more than a year, life for many sriracha lovers has been an excruciating lesson in bland. Shortages of red jalapeños—the key ingredient in the famous hot sauce—have gotten bleak, in particular for the ultra-popular version of the condiment made by Huy Fong Foods. Grocery stores have enforced buying limits on customers. Bottles on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon are selling for eye-watering prices—as much as $50 or more. A few Americans have grown so desperate for their flavor fix that they’ve started pilfering the sauce from local restaurants.
A big part of the shortage can be blamed on Huy Fong’s fragile supply chain. The red jalapeños that give the sauce its citrusy-sweet heat are finicky about temperatures and are usually laboriously picked by hand. A huge portion of the peppers are also grown in particularly dry parts of northern Mexico, where many fields are irrigated with water from the Colorado River—itself a strained and highly contested resource. But all of that was just a teeing up, experts told me, for a final climatic blow: the punishing drought that has gripped Mexico in recent years, draining reservoirs so low that even water destined for agriculture has largely been cordoned away.