Lemon Crisis: Why Ceviche Becomes a Luxury Economy for Peruvians

For weeks, Peruvians have frowned not when they sucked on lemons, but when they saw their prices rising out of reach. A sharp fact can be verified by the question asked every day: How much does a kilo of lemons cost in Lima and other provinces? This question has as many searches as exchange rates. Perhaps this is a new metric to measure the country’s performance.

Can you make ceviche without lemon? It’s an existential suspicion of a land that puffs up its chest for food and is horrified that its signature dish – a national cultural heritage since 2004 – is under threat. Ceviche in its purest form has five ingredients: raw fish, salt, chili peppers, onions and lemon. The magic, in its most modern version, is the product of all these inputs instantly infused on the quick journey from bowl to table. Experts say it would be impossible to find the exact point of ceviche without the acidity levels of Peruvian lemons. A balance of freshness, spiciness and citrus.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI), the price of lemons increased by 121.7% between June and August. However, if we consider that the price of a kilogram of lemons in the first quarter of this year was three soles (0.8 cents on the dollar), and there were reports in early September that this number would soar even further in the Mexican capital of Chiclayo. Prices in the coastal region of Lambayeque have risen to 60 soles ($16.2) per kilogram. In Lima, fruit prices in supermarkets and food markets have reached 20 soles ($5.4) per kilogram, but, although they have fallen to an average of 9.50 soles ($2.50) in recent days, the outlook remains uncertain.

Precision is necessary: ​​a Peruvian lemon is not a Peruvian lemon. It was brought from Southeast Asia during the Spanish Conquest and settled on the northern coast of Peru, mainly in the Piura region. It was originally called the Ceuta lemon, a reference to Ceuta, a city in North Africa that belonged to Spain and where this lemon variety was grown, but popular accounts renamed it the Subtle Lemon. As they say: barely any subtle flavor. Its acidity is quite strong and unique, even irreplaceable. An important contribution was made not only to ceviche, but also to the creation of Peru’s iconic cocktail, the Pisco Sour, and the typical export drink, Chicha Morada.

Peruvian ceviche called "Ceviche" In a coffee shop.
There is a Peruvian ceviche called “Ceviche Nikei” in the buffet restaurant.J. Pat Carter (AP)

In Peru, where gastronomy is a national affair and, therefore, its highest authorities have an obligation to the people, named South America’s best gastronomic destination in the latest edition of the World Travel Awards. A few weeks ago, Economy Secretary Alex Contreras Miranda suggested to the public that pollo saltado should be used instead of ceviche and that ceviche can also be paired with other dishes , such as seafood rice or squid crisps. In the face of criticism, Contreras had to correct himself: “I took this opportunity to realize that I was not clear enough and confident enough. I had no intention of interfering in the family’s financial decisions. “I admit that I made a mistake. ” Indeed, his first statement was already evident in the recent Datum poll: his disapproval rating rose from 59% to 64%.

Contreras nevertheless received the approval of the President of the Republic, Dina Boluate. Nelly Paredes del Castillo, who until last week held a position in the agricultural development and irrigation department, did not suffer the same fate. Paredes minimized the crisis, implying that lemons were minimal in household shopping baskets. “It represents only 2% of what we Peruvians consume, so let’s use alternatives. Let’s add a little more salt, vinegar and cider to the salad. There are also Tahitian lemons on the market. This is sweeter, but I Think now is the time for all Peruvians to lend a helping hand,” he said. The consequences were painful: On September 6, Jennifer Contreras Álvarez was appointed to replace her.

According to the Peruvian Association of Agricultural Producers, the reasons for the increase in the price of delicate lemons are attacks from nature: coastal El Niño and Cyclone Yacu. Rain-flooded soil severely affected lemon trees and lemon plants. They are either infested with fungi and mites or produce very small fruits. The most affected area is Piura, where 60% of citrus production is concentrated (16,904 hectares). Added to this is a fertilizer crisis that dates back to the administration of Pedro Castillo. “Many farmers have reduced their fertilization, resulting in a weak performance of plantations facing such a critical stage,” said Rubén Carrasco, president of the Crop Protection Association (Protec) of the Lima Chamber of Commerce.

While August, September and October are months when lemon production typically decreases, the complication is that the harvest of the so-called green gold occurs four years after the planting period, so increasing acreage will not reverse the situation. within a short period of time. If implemented, this would be more of a long-term measure. Is the Peruvian willing to accept that his ceviche will have another flavor, perhaps another aroma and texture? That’s the details. Javier Vargas, president of the Peruvian Association of Marine and Allied Restaurants (Armap), advocates using less lemon in each dish so that the taste remains familiar and costs don’t rise and diners end up giving up on ceviche. . “Two lemons per plate will increase the price more than four lemons,” he commented.

More convenient options are available on the market, such as Tahitian lemons, which grow in the jungle. It’s larger and greener than Subtle, but also less acidic and juicy. Another option is yellow straw lemon, which tends to be sweeter. There are also turkey lemons, dark in color and with wrinkled skin, whose main drawback is a short shelf life: they should be consumed within a week. There are also Colombian lemons, named for their origin, which are large and bitter in taste. The latter enter the country through smuggling. Recently, police seized 11 tons of Colombian lemons worth 160,000 soles ($43,243) in the Tumbes region on the Ecuadorian border.

Another dangerous aspect is the use of organic compounds such as acetic acid and citric acid as substitutes. To avoid poisoning from adulterated ceviche, the National Institutes of Health (INS) highlights the risks of consuming citric acid: It can wear down tooth enamel, and it can also irritate the digestive system, leading to gastritis.

What makes the people heartbroken is that on August 21, when the lemon market had reached its peak, Blue House purchased another 3 tons of lemons for the next 12 months. And is one of the extra category i.e. the best quality. Although Palacio remained silent on this news report, this Friday, the Governor of the Central Reserve Bank (BCR) Julio Velarde tried to reassure people with a forecast: the average price of lemons in December will be 6.58 soles ($1.70) per kilogram ). “We can make mistakes,” he said in his defence. Food is at stake.

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