Question about lime leaves in Maine
I got this email from my friend who lives in Portland, Maine. Does anyone know what this might be about?
"On Monday I went to my favorite Asian market and bought some lime leaves for curry. The owner was working the counter, and said to me "soon we're not going to be able to get these". Apparently there's some new regulation and their supplier can no longer sell lime leaves, even though they're grown in the US. And the market owner had to sign something about not selling them....there's now a $2,000 fine per ounce, and he was threatened with his market being closed and being sent to jail. What's going on? have you heard anything about this? He was really really upset. He was like "Those Assholes.....sorry to say that...but, it's our FOOD! Can you imagine if they told you you couldn't buy celery?" To which I responded that I was much more upset about lime leaves than I would be about celery. How do I even figure out what's going on with lime leaf regulations?"
Thanks in advance,
There's absolutely nothing on the Maine or U.S. Dept. of Agriculture websites warning about the trade in domestic or imported lime leaves, or that they pose some sort of threat. And nothing on the Drug Enforcement Agency website, either, suggesting folks are drying lime leaves and then smoking, injecting or snorting them.
A supposed "$2,000 fine per ounce," the threat of jail and the lack of even the hint of a lime leaf rumor online via Google shouts out URBAN LEGEND to me. Or a gross misunderstanding that develops when a story has been passed on a few times, with your friend at the tail end--a Thai version of the old Chinese whispers game we used to play as kids, if you will.
This looks like it might be a big brother knows best situation: The culprit is citrus canker bacteria. They tried to confine it to SE Asia by banning the importation of Kefir lime leaves several years ago but it didn't work. It's now spread to the US, Australia, and Brazil. (Thank you Wikipedia!)
The big problem is that it affects ALL citrus, not just limes and the only way to eradicate it is to destroy (burn) the trees.
I found out about it about 5 years ago when
I was trying to find imported lime leaves and had to use CA lime leaves instead.
I've never had Kefir lime leaves from SE Asia, but they're supposed to blow the CA version out of the water tastewise.
I had the same problem 5 years ago when I originally started looking for the lime leaves. (shout out to the owner of World Spice in Seattle [worldspice.com] who clued me in on the ban.) Wikipedia was my source for what citrus canker is/does.
Using a search engine on this topic was worse than useless. Which is too bad because the market owner mentioned by the OP might not ever know the truth.
Is this widespread? Is this why the past few times I have been at my favorite Asian market there have been no lime leaves? We hear about Dutch Elm Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer, but not the citrus canker. Anyone know more about this, nationwide?
I've had no problem finding kaffir lime leaves(fresh and frozen) in Chicago. It took me awhile to root them out in Indianapolis, but here, too, I finally found a couple of markets that carry them. I figure the general lack of makrut in Indianapolis is more a function of location than any "ban." It's also difficult to find galangal, here. Now it's been a couple of months since I last bought makrut...so I'll be really disappointed if there is a ban once my stash is gone. Again, I haven't heard anything. Perhaps the stores where I buy makrut are domestically-supplied? No importation worries? Also, maybe the OP is confusing kaffir lime leaves(which to my knowledge have never been banned) with sichuan peppercorns, which, until a couple years ago *were* banned because of potential citrus canker contamination.
Since they pose a threat to citrus crops, it would seem logical that states with an actual citrus industry would have a concern. So I checked the Florida DOA site, and sure enough, lime leaves get a number of mentions (albeit from ten years ago).
And a grower/blogger in Florida gives some more recent insight:
As do Chowhounders in New York:
There seem to be plenty of online sources to obtain kaffir lime leaves. Maybe they can't(and shouldn't) be shipping them to Florida and other citrus states, but I suspect Maine wouldn't be an issue.