Good news if you're among the statistically tiny number of Americans with healthy productive lime trees growing in their backyards: the price of limes is so high, restaurants and bars in places like Arizona and southern California are giving “free” drinks or food to any customer who brings in a bag of home-picked limes.
Bad news for the vast majority of American (and worldwide) lime-lovers who don't and can't grow their own: the price of limes has skyrocketed, from $15 for a case of 200 last year to anywhere from $80 to $130 per case today.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that no one single factor is to blame for this, but a variety of problems added together which have drastically reduced worldwide lime output. Despite the handful of Americans with productive lime trees in their backyards, there really isn't much land in America where the climate is consistently hot and humid enough to make lime farming commercially viable.
The one exception is in Florida, which had a thriving lime industry until 2001, when a highly contagious citrus canker outbreak threatened the entire state citrus industry. So officials ordered the destruction of most lime groves, and the lime industry there has yet to recover.
Extortion and shakedowns
Then Mexico started producing a significant portion of limes consumed in the U.S. Unfortunately for Mexican lime farmers, the drug cartels in that country also engage in Mafia-style extortion and shakedowns of legitimate businesses, including lime growers.
To top it all off, storms killed the lime crop in one Mexican state, and a different plant disease threatens the crops in another.
For some recipes demanding lime juice, you can easily substitute an equal amount of lemon juice, vinegar or dry white wine. But for other recipes – including guacamole and margaritas – the lime itself is often considered essential to how the finished recipe actually tastes. (The sourness of lime works well in certain mixed drinks; the sourness of vinegar, not so much.)