Earlier last year, the toilet paper shortage made headlines across the country but another shortage became a pressing but silent issue across Humboldt County: the Larrupin Dill Sauce shortage. Confusion over who makes it, combined with the pandemic, historic California wildfires, food shortages, lockdowns, power shutoffs and other anomalies the last few years have thrown at us, have caused the sauce to temporarily disappear off of store shelves.
The scarcity and local popularity of this sweet, herby condiment staple amid panic buying and a run on comfort food led people to act out. From incessant phone calls to scams using the sauce's image and name, the Larrupin shortage caused some drama.
Larrupin Café founder Dixie Gorrell and her partner Per Ingelsberg were originally from the Midwest and started the restaurant in Westhaven until moving to Trinidad, taking over the former Colonial Inn bed and breakfast. Given Ingelsberg's Scandanavian heritage, the Nordic roots of the sauce is similar to hovmästarsås, a common element of Swedish smorgasbords. The sauce made its debut at the Larrupin Café in 1983. Since then, it has skyrocketed in popularity as an integral part of Humboldt food culture, spread on everything from bagels to salads. Eventually, growing demand resulted in its being manufactured independently from the café, which is under new ownership by Paul Fitzgerald.
The café is separate from the sauce business. Larrupin Goods, the sauce manufacturer, is operated by the original family owners, though it still allows the restaurant to use the recipe. To some Humboldt residents' likely surprise, Larrupin is manufactured in a co-packing plant in Sonoma, California, and distributed locally by Tomaso's. Lucas Aldinger, general manager of Larrupin Goods, has been overseeing its making and bottling for the last 12 years.
"Due to the pandemic and everybody hoarding food, they're super busy and we are just temporarily out of stock," said Aldinger in November. "This happened two years ago when we had the Santa Rosa fire and power shutoff."
Humboldt resident and Larrupin lover Adam Webster found himself going from grocery story to grocery store in search of the missing mustard. "I cannot have a Reuben without Larrupin on it. It really kicks my sauerkraut game up a notch," said Webster. "These little comforts really make a difference when it comes to just handling the state of the world right now." Webster wasn't alone.
"There were just tons of calls and inquiries, I didn't realize how popular we were," said Aldinger. "People were sort of frantic and then the tendency for people to want to stock up, you know, it's like the toilet paper syndrome."
As people looked for online buying options, third-party stores have popped up on Amazon, selling the same little jar for more than double the usual retail price.
"I had a friend call me up and say, 'Hey, that's a great giveaway you're doing on Facebook,'" said Aldinger. "And I said, 'We don't have a Facebook page.'" Aldinger discovered that someone made a Larrupin Facebook page, gained a good following and created a fake contest for people to enter and win a prize. Scam artists all over the internet impersonate famous people, influencers or companies to get users' information. Evidently Larrupin is popular enough to be used as bait.
"I was probably getting five or six calls a day [about the giveaway], the majority from Humboldt County," said Aldinger.
The staff of the Larrupin Café has been getting more and more calls about the sauce since the shortage, too, all from people worried and curious over their missing mustard.
The sauce was back on track for distribution in early November, but demand and panic buying still left their spots on store shelves vacant until mid-December. Now that things have calmed down, you should be able to find Larrupin Dill Sauce in local stores again. It's a reminder of how fragile our manufacturing and distribution systems can be. It's perilous even for the most popular products.
"It just takes one piece of a supply chain to fall apart and you're out of business," said Aldinger.
Emily McCollum (she/her) is a student at Humboldt State University.