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Bars hit by US lime shortage

Sitting in a Mexican bar in Washington DC, a customer complained about the lemon in her margarita.

"Using lemon instead of lime in a margarita is like using onions instead of garlic," she said.

But lemon margaritas might soon become commonplace in bars across the US, thanks to the skyrocketing price of limes.

"The prices started to shoot up in March. Before, a case of 200 limes cost us US$45 (S$56).

"Then it jumped to US$85.

"Today, it's worth US$160," said Joahna Hernandez, manager of Casa Oaxaca, a Mexican restaurant in Washington.

While raising the price of margaritas, the traditional Mexican cocktail made from tequila and lime juice, is out of the question, Ms Hernandez said bottles of Corona, the popular Mexican beer, no longer come garnished with a slice of lime.

Around 95 per cent of the limes consumed in the US come from Mexico. And when the supply dries up, the problem spreads across the US, AFP reported.

The lime shortage can be traced to multiple sources, including a surge in fungal and disease problems exacerbated by heavy rains and flooding in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Veracruz and Michoacan, said Jonathan Crane, University of Florida professor and an expert on citrus fruit.

But perhaps more disastrously, Mexican drug cartels have begun to see a previously untapped value in the lime trade.

Traffickers are doing with limes "what they already did with avocados", Ms Hernandez explained.

"They appropriate the crops and control whole communities. They are trying to control lime production," she said.