The Sriracha Shortage Is a Warning About the Climate Crisis

Why scientists are calling the climate conditions behind the Huy Fong Foods chili crop failure "the worst-case scenario"

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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You may have heard the news that, along with a number of other, arguably more urgent, shortages on grocery store shelves, we appear to be approaching a summer light on the spice. Huy Fong Foods, Inc, the maker of the green-capped bottle of hot sauce most Americans probably think of when they hear “sriracha,” has cautioned its wholesale customers to expect its rooster sauce to be in short supply and orders of product likely won’t be shipped out to retailers until after Labor Day. So what’s behind the sriracha shortage we’re facing? Unlike many of the stock issues we’ve become accustomed to in the last two years, this one isn’t entirely about pandemic supply chain issues.

“Currently, due to weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers, we now face a more severe shortage of chili. Unfortunately, this is out of our control and without this essential ingredient we are unable to produce any of our products,” the company wrote in a memo to customers.

Northern Mexico, where Huy Fong Foods has sourced its peppers since 2016, has experienced a period of extreme heat and drought in recent months. Reuters reports some parts of the region have even begun rationing the limited supplies of water and significantly curtailing commercial water use. Local authorities note that, while the past year has been particularly extreme with temperatures regularly reaching 104 Fahrenheit, the region has been receiving rainfall below historical averages since 2015.

Those inhospitable conditions are believed to have contributed to what a Huy Fong statement to media describes as an “unexpected crop failure from the spring chili harvest.”

Experts have long warned that crop failures will become ever more common as climate change-linked “megadrought” conditions take hold around the globe. A  study published in the March, 2022 issue of the scientific journal Nature Climate Change concluded that the past 22-year period has been the driest on record for the Western United States and northern Mexico since 800 CE and that 42 percent of the cause for those megadrought conditions in the could be attributed to human-caused climate change. Were it not for human-caused factors such as the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers’ models suggest the current megadrought that began in 2002 would have only lasted until 2005 or 2006.

“Climate change is changing the baseline conditions toward a drier, gradually drier state in the West and that means the worst-case scenario keeps getting worse,” UCLA climate scientist A. Park Williams, an author of the study, told “I think we need to be even preparing for conditions in the future that are far worse than this.”

Those worse scenarios include crop failures that go beyond flavorful peppers. A NASA study published last year found that global production of corn is projected to decline by 24 percent by the end of this decade. The yield of that essential, staple crop is expected to drop due to changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, and surface carbon dioxide concentrations linked to greenhouse gas emissions.

“We did not expect to see such a fundamental shift, as compared to crop yield projections from the previous generation of climate and crop models conducted in 2014,” Jonas Jägermeyr, a crop modeler and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City, and the lead author of the study, wrote upon its release. “A 20 percent decrease from current production levels could have severe implications worldwide.”


RELATED: Climate Change Is Making Food Less Healthy – and Putting Millions of People at Risk of Nutrient Deficiencies

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