Is it Too Hot for Hot Sauce?

Climate change is spicing up our world, and the call to take action is burning hot.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Celeste Hoo

Splat! You squeeze a generous drizzle of Sriracha onto your favorite beef fried rice with a blissful grin. From the first bite, your taste buds tingle with delight—a kick of spice, followed by a tangy savor. A nationwide favorite, this sauce is the most bought hot sauce in 31 states, with over 74 percent of Americans claiming to add it to their food. But if Sriracha is so popular, then why has it become harder to find these green-capped hot sauce bottles?

Sriracha, made by Huy Fong Foods, is a type of Thai chili sauce made from chili peppers, sugar, salt, vinegar, and garlic. It can be put on almost anything, from noodles to burgers. Huy Fong Foods has repeatedly reported shortages of the famous hot sauce. In July 2020, the company sent out an email to its customers saying that they had been experiencing a shortage of the jalapeño chili peppers used to make the sauce. This issue resurged in April 2022, causing a surge in demand and prices. A pack of two 17-oz Huy Fong Sriracha bottles began to retail for $114.59 on Amazon, and a four-pack of 28-oz bottles for $200. Comparing the skyrocketed prices to the normal ones of around $8 per 17-ounce bottle, many began to ration the precious sauce in their pantries like it was liquid gold. The company reported that the ongoing shortage is due to complicated supplier relations and unsuitable agricultural conditions. 

Huy Fong wrote in an April 2022 letter that the company was facing a severe production shortage due to weather conditions affecting the quality of their secret ingredient, red jalapeño chili peppers. This was the sauce emergency of every spice lover’s nightmares. 

Though these peppers can be grown in a few different places, they require extra care in order to develop properly. According to Stephanie Walker, an extension vegetable specialist at New Mexico State University, jalapeños are picked and tediously de-stemmed by hand before they are sent out for processing. Red jalapeño chili pepper growth only thrives in very dry regions like New Mexico and parts of Mexico (Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Michoacán) because they have low humidity levels and abundant sunshine. 

Unfortunately, Mexico has recently been facing severe heat waves and droughts as a result of climate change and La Niña, a climate pattern that causes cooler than usual temperatures along the equatorial Pacific. Temperatures soared to nearly 122°F (50°C) in June, causing more than 70 percent of Mexico to experience drought conditions. Once temperatures surpass 95°F, pollinators stop visiting, flowers begin to die without producing seeds, and most importantly, crops die because they are not receiving enough liquid sustenance. These conditions have been further exacerbated by heat waves, a direct cause of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. They have led to extremely dry soil that cannot sustain agriculture, along with water flow levels nearly 75 percent lower than usual. According to a 2022 study in Nature Climate Change, the southwestern U.S. and Mexico have been facing the driest 22-year period in the last 1,200 years, with a lack of rainfall and overwhelmingly high temperatures. 

However, a shortage of red jalapeño peppers is only one of countless consequences brought on by climate change. Climate change has multiple causes—from deforestation to the burning of fossil fuels—all of which are driven by human actions. In the past 20 years, Mexico has lost 8 percent of its primary forest to deforestation, causing carbon dioxide levels to increase by nearly 54 percent. On a global level, from 1901 to 2020, temperatures have risen by 1.8°F, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 25 percent since 1958. Each day, New Yorkers see the effects of climate change in rapidly changing temperatures and sudden flash flood warnings, but these effects are felt in more severity all around the world. In May, Malaysia placed restrictions on the export of chicken products, as hens tend to produce fewer eggs in extremely hot weather. Likewise, after a heatwave in March and April slashed crop yields in India, the country banned wheat exports, despite the fact that they are the world’s second largest producer. 

The Sriracha shortage is a warning sign about the implications of climate change. The plight of the hot sauce mirrors a broader crisis—one that encompasses disappearing forests, rising temperatures, and the destruction of fragile ecosystems. Our actions today will play a pivotal role in shaping the future for generations to come. Small actions, from turning the lights off after you leave a room to staying informed about climate change, can help to address this global issue. Let’s work toward a future where the flavors we love are savored, not scarce.