This piece originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Sriracha fans are a passionate bunch. They have been known to get tattoos of the popular hot sauce on their bodies and dress up like the red plastic squeeze bottle for Halloween.
So it’s no surprise that an unprecedented shortage of the beloved condiment would send loyalists scrambling to avoid a spiceless summer.
Huy Fong Foods, the southern California company that produces 20m bottles of sriracha annually, has experienced a low inventory of red jalapeño chilli peppers in recent years made worse by spring’s crop failure.
The cause? Severe weather and drought conditions in Mexico.
It’s not just chilli peppers. Mustard producers in France and Canada said extreme weather caused a 50% reduction in seed production last year, leading to a shortage of the condiment on grocery store shelves. Blistering heat, stronger storms, droughts, floods, fires and changes in rainfall patterns are also affecting the cost and availability of staples, including wheat, corn, coffee, apples, chocolate and wine. The climate crisis is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events – and it’s putting food production at risk.
“Almost everything we grow and raise in the US is facing some climatic stress,” said Carolyn Dimitri, nutrition and food studies professor at NYU.
Wheat and other grain crops are particularly vulnerable. In the Great Plains, where most of the US’s wheat is harvested, drought depressed the winter crop. Abandonment levels for winter wheat in the US – primarily in Texas and Oklahoma – are the highest since 2002. Meanwhile in Montana, flooding is threatening grain crops.
“This becomes important because the US doesn’t have a large surplus and can’t really contribute at this exact minute to fill in the global gap in wheat supplies due to the Ukraine crisis,” said Dimitri.
The impact of the climate crisis on grain crops extends beyond the US. In India, a fierce heatwave damaged the wheat crop due to record-setting temperatures throughout the spring and summer. As Delhi hit 120F in May, the government placed a ban on wheat exports, driving up prices even further than the rise following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Climate change could seriously affect the global production of maize and wheat as early as 2030, a 2021 Nasa study found, with maize crop yields estimated to decline by 24%.
Apples are another food already at risk. Last year’s apple harvest in Michigan and Wisconsin was compromised because of heavy frost in the spring. According to the USDA, changes in climate, such as warming, can lead to smaller yields, lower growth and changes in the fruit’s quality.
“Humans are scrappy little creatures so we’re still growing food and yields are going up by and large, but as the temperature goes up, the challenge becomes greater,” said Ricky Robertson, a senior researcher at International Food Policy Research Institute.