Hot Sauce in Hot Water

Hot Sauce in Hot Water

Thanks to climate change, a fan favourite hot sauce will – like fjords melting under our increasingly temperate atmosphere – disappear from our dinner tables this summer. Huy Fong Foods Inc., purveyors of the classic, green-capped, garlicky bottles of Sriracha hot sauce (as well as a fiery sambal oelek and pungent chili garlic sauce) have publicly broken the news that a pepper shortage will soon affect their output. Wholesale orders for all three popular sauces, which use the same, now-scarce, red jalapeño peppers, made after April 19th this year will be completed and shipped at the beginning of September. Huy Fong dropped the dire news in an email last week.

“The company described the pepper shortage as ‘severe’ and related to the climate. The company sources its peppers from various farms in California, New Mexico and Mexico, and said that weather conditions were affecting the quality of the peppers and deepening the chili pepper shortage. […]

‘Unfortunately, this is out of our control and without this essential ingredient we are unable to produce any of our products,’ the company said. […]

Hot temperatures and a historic drought across the US west have been taking a heavy toll on California’s agriculture. The US Drought Monitor reported that the whole state was in ‘severe drought’ as of last week, with the Central Valley facing ‘extreme drought’ conditions.”

The Sriracha folks are no strangers to production hiccups; in 2013, a lawsuit brought by neighbours claiming that the aerosolized capsaicin emitted by the factory was a public nuisance caused production to grind to a halt, until the suit was dropped the next year. Non-committal language in their announcement aside, I’m betting the famously word-of-mouth-only, cult condiment will bounce back because that’s what the system does in the short term. The greater, long-term question is, will our planet bounce back?

The Popular Pawpaw: Science Intervenes in Future of Elusive Fruit

We’re entering the time of year in southern Ontario where the early fruits start showing up. I’m lucky: my faves are strawberries, so, unlike apple or peach fans, I don’t have to wait too long to dig in!

I love a local fruit, so I was quite surprised to read about one I’d never heard of, via the BBC of all places. The pawpaw is a fragrant, mango-like, ancient fruit that grows wild in half the United States and into our neck of the woods. It has a huge fandom, but, as the pawpaw spoils a few days after being picked — and, as serious devotees attest, is truly ideal freshly harvested from the tree — that’s limited to a pretty short range around its habitat. Advocates have been spreading the word, though, and now science is listening.

“‘They are so delicious,’ said Michael Judd, author of For the Love of Paw Paws: A Mini Manual for Growing and Caring for Paw Paws – From Seed to Table. During the harvest season (typically a few weeks in late summer or early autumn), his diet consists mainly of pawpaws taken right off the branch. ‘It’s a nutrient-rich superfood,’ he added, listing off the pawpaw’s many attributes: antioxidants, all the amino acids, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C. […]

Iowa State University is developing a pawpaw variety with a longer shelf life and a larger fruit with fewer seeds.

Kentucky State University has a pawpaw programme too. ‘We’re interested in pawpaw from an ecological standpoint as a native plant that is losing habitat, and from a horticultural standpoint as a unique high-value fruit crop that can be grown sustainably since it’s well suited for the climate,’ said [KSU research associate Sheri] Crabtree. She noted that over the past 20 years she’s seen awareness of the fruit grow, driven by the shift toward sustainable and local food production and the Slow Food movement. Some of that attention is also driven by efforts to honour indigenous foods. As Mihesuah pointed out, ‘Tribes are attempting to protect and revitalise their traditional food sources, and pawpaws are an important part.’”

My envy at hearing of this fabulous fruit that I’ve totally missed out in quickly galvanized me to find out where in our fair province I could find them. The University of Guelph has a pretty vague map, and a cursory Google around implies that most wild stands are found by word of mouth, and generally protected by fans to prevent over-harvesting. Well, I may try my hand at growing them myself (in pairs of trees, as they don’t self-fertilize), or wait for Science to brew up those shelf-stable fruits that can be shipped up here. Either way, the day I finally taste a pawpaw will be memorable indeed!

Raspberry Robots: Saving Berries one Bot at a Time

raspberry picking results

With robotics ingratiating itself into more aspects of our lives, we are inching closer and closer to the Singularity virtually every day. When it comes, I’m glad that it will at least be delicious: A team of four-armed robots, designed and built by Fieldwork Robotics, has cracked the problem of robotic raspberry picking. The robots are currently roving the fields of Portugal, executing the remarkably difficult task of picking the tiny, delicate fruits from different heights on each raspberry bush, working to stock British supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s. The Guardian lays it all out.

“‘We are making real progress in the development of our harvesting robots,’ said Rui Andres, Fieldwork’s chief executive. ‘Raspberries are very sensitive so we have had to develop technology that can apply enough pressure to release the fruit from the stem without damaging it. At the same time, our sensors are now so advanced that they can tell if the fruit is ready to be harvested or not, meaning what can be sold is all that is picked.’

He told the Guardian the robots were picking 1kg of fruit an hour, with the company working to ramp this up to more than 4kg an hour. The firm is aiming to have a robot picking 25,000 raspberries a day, compared with 15,000 for a human working an eight-hour shift.”

There’s a lot to be said for the efficiency of these bots, though the usual “freeing humans from drudgery” note is tempered by the fact that UK-based farmers are experiencing a shortage of international workers altogether (Brexit, anyone?). Fieldwork’s representatives insist the robots can work alongside human pickers, to “ensure gaps are filled,” and not to replace them completely. Only time will tell if the raspberry robots can be deployed as a fully automated harvesting force – and what it truly means for labour regulations in the now-isolated UK. Sometimes the only bright spot one can count on in life is a bowl full of granola with a few berries on top. However it shakes out, at least we’re blessed to have access to those little bites of sunshine!