Is…today? Seems superfluous; every day is margarita day. Even when the lime index is low — and indeed the H-Mart-sourced fruit we have at home right now is subpar — one ought always have a container of limeade in the freezer, ready to go in an emergency.
Still, we will celebrate appropriately. Any excuse…
It’s been awhile since we did one of these. The lime quality-price ratio has held mercifully steady this winter, with usually decent-to-high quality H Mart limes at 4/$1 and often even better quality Hung Phat limes at 3/$1. Safeway and Giant and Wegman’s are all in the 2/$3 neighborhood, sometimes worse, and not usually any better quality. Considering last winter’s lime disaster, this is all rainbows and unicorns.
The Lime Index
But how long can we ride this
gravy lime juice train until it derails?* That will be one sticky, delicious, depressing derailment. We in the U.S. are increasingly dependent on Mexican limes (brief explanation why is here), and Mexican lime crops are on a moderate but decidedly downward trend.
* The O’Jays sang “Love Train” so I feel like maybe I can get away with this metaphor (get it? O’Jay? OJ? Orange Juice? Love Train? Lime Train?)…maybe not.
Thanks to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Agriculture Information Network, we can keep tabs on international lime data: Mexican production of Persian limes is down about 5% year over year from 2010 to 2011 to (expected) 2012. Which means prices are likely to creep up — although maybe not, since reportedly the domestic Mexican lime market is saturated (how is that even possible!?) so they may increase exports. If we’re lucky, at least quality might be maintained. Here is one excerpt from the USDA FAS GAIN (whew) 2011 annual report (published 12/15/2011) for Mexican citrus (whole report here in PDF):
Veracruz went through a series of weather events that affected the flowering of the Persian lime trees. During September/October 2011, expected rainfall did not materialize and during November it rained when it should have been drier. The state of Michoacán was hit by heavy rainfall from Hurricane “Hilary” in September 2011 affecting the flowering of Key lime trees. During the month of October, hurricane “Jova” affected Key lime trees in the state of Colima.
Here is a vivid PPT deck on the Mexican lime industry. For neither this nor the GAIN report will I say “read the whole thing” — but to me, it is kind of interesting. My lime obsession is starting to remind me of Adrian Mole and the Norwegian leather industry — not that there’s anything (much) wrong with that.
Bad times for limes. Three for $1 at H-Mart but poor quality and selection. Three for $2 at various Giants, and $1 per lime at the Kensington Safeway. Are you kidding me? At least those looked big and juicy, but still. Crazy prices.
Lime Index September 2011
Evidently weather is wreaking havoc on lime crops in Mexico and Brazil. More evidence. On the other hand, maybe the Russians are diverting the best limes to their burgeoning market. Or else some big lime shipments are being held as evidence, as in this case where a truckful of limes bound for New Jersey was found to contain more than $2 million worth of marijuana. The way lime prices are going, I wonder if the cartels would be better off trying to smuggle limes?
I guess it’s summer now but whatever, H Mart seems all springy, happy, bunnies and leprechauns and fresh air. Perhaps it is because the limes are back to consistently high quality, and most recently were six for $1? I wonder who is in charge of lime procurement and price-setting? I assume the Lime Manager has to sample the merchandise, for quality control. How much is the pay? I might like that job.
The Lime Index
The Wheaton H-Mart has a big banner up advertising their sponsorship of the “Kimchi Chronicles,” apparently a Korean food show coming to national PBS television in July, featuring (incongruously) Jean-Georges Vongerichten — turns out his wife is half Korean and she will host, he will sidekick. Looks like celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Heather Graham will also narrate or make cameos. Star-studded! Not to mention someone billed as “The Julia Child of [a town in Korea I didn't quite catch].” The photography looks brilliant based on the preview.
That’s high-brow. This is low-brow:
Live Nude Pepero!!!
Pepero Nude! Lotte makes a whole lotte good stuff. They also have Pepero Almond, but not Pepero Fully-clothed. The subtitle for Pepero Nude is “Chocolate filled bicuit sticks” which seems more truth-in-advertising but less fun. Is it fair to say H Mart is a clothing-optional shopping environment? Maybe only if you are filled with chocolate?
April 2011 Lime Index
Still not back to the glory days of ten juicy green limes for a dollar, but crisis averted…for now. Lately we’ve enjoyed limes from Hung Phat (3 for $1) and H Mart (4 for $1), very good quality for the first time in months. Prices at Giant, Safeway, Balducci’s have been around 79 or 89 cents apiece.
Wegman’s came through this weekend with big bags of limes for under $3 — works out to about 20 cents per lime, and the quality is high. A harbinger of lime excellence to come? I normally don’t buy bags because that’s a lot of limes, hard to use them all, but couldn’t resist this time. It has been a long scurvy-ridden winter.
Nowhere to go but up
The lime situation is only slightly less dire than a month or more ago, but maybe daylight savings will signal a return to juicy fruit and juicy prices. Not soon enough for our official St. Patrick’s Day margaritas, but maybe in time for the Cinco de Mayo margaritas?
Lately prices continue to hover between 50 and 75 cents per lime, including 2/$1 at H Mart, which quality is merely edible (read: small, hard, too many brown ones) (don’t eat the brown ones). Quality is marginally better at Rodman’s and sometimes Giant.
The Lime Index
The lime situation is off to a terrible start in 2011, with Bethesda Giant offering four limes for $3. Ripoff! Especially at mediocre quality. Wheaton H Mart has been stuck at 3 for $1 for months now, not a terrible price but again quality has suffered lately. Wheaton Giant and Kensington Safeway were both 3 for $2 last I checked.
We felt a bit better this past week when we found St. Petersburg (Florida) Publix limes were also 3 for $2, and the quality was no better down there.
What’s the problem? Partly it’s just that prime Persian lime season is late spring through fall, so trying to get great limes in winter is like trying to downhill ski in Virginia in August, or to get great Tex-Mex in DC anytime. This Fresh Plaza article suggests Mexican production has been cut due to falling wholesale prices (about half of all limes consumed in the U.S. come from Mexico). But perhaps more significant, heavy rainfall in Mexico, especially Veracruz (aka Persian Lime Central), ruined much of the Q4 2010 crop, or at least caused it to fail to meet export-quality standards. Plus, according to this USDA report:
in December 2010, new U.S. import requirements put in place to prevent the entry of Sweet Orange Scab (i.e., Elsinoë australis) are stopping Mexican limes from reaching the U.S. market.
Not helping! Apparently those requirements were modified later that same month, just in time for Santa to put wizened, substandard, chemically-treated Mexican limes in our stockings. Disaster averted. Sweet orange scab. Sweet fancy Moses! All I want are high quality, affordable limes — is that so wrong?! Maybe by April-May things will improve, just in time for margarita season.
On the bright side, we have a fab new lime index logo — thanks P!!
Not a good holiday season for local lime purchasing, as prices have stabilized at approximately three for $1, from Giant to Safeway to (gasp) H-Mart. Quality is solid but not perfect, big and green but could be juicier.
Lime futures are rising, with better pricing forecast for spring…
No zombie limes lately, quality has been pretty good across the board. We visited a couple of new-to-us sources this weekend: the Target in the Wheaton mall, which now offers a full grocery (decent dry and frozen goods but limited meats/fruits/veggies and no fish), and the Bloom up in Rockville, which is overall maybe a little better than Giant-Safeway in quality (but maybe not), but less selection, and certainly no Wegman’s/Whole Foods, and not really worth the drive. On to the limes:
Target: 3/$1, good quality
Bloom: 4/$1, very good quality
Hung Phat: 3/$1, good mixed with meh, you really have to sift through the bin
Kensington Safeway: 3/$1, very good quality (I was pleasantly surprised)
H Mart: 10/$1, very good quality and huge volume. Winner!